U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján
U.S. SENATE News:
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), and U.S. Reps Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) wrote to Twitter CEO Elon Musk to urge the company to reverse cuts that expose Spanish speakers to fraud and abuse.
This follows an alarming spike in harassment on the platform, and reports that Twitter has fired a large majority of its contractors working domestically and abroad to detect and remove illegal and harmful content that violates the platform’s own guidelines.
In their letter, the lawmakers underscore the important role a global workforce with adequate language skill and cultural context play in protecting users from fraud and harassment and urges Twitter to provide information regarding how the platform will enforce its policies and provide non-English language users with the level of service and protections they are equally entitled to.
Earlier this month, Senators Luján and Menendez and Representative Cárdenas led their colleagues in sending a letter to Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, for their lack of action and transparency regarding the spread of Spanish-language misinformation and disinformation on its platform. In April, the lawmakers sent a letter urging Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, to increase platform moderation of Spanish-language disinformation on the war in Ukraine from Russian-owned media outlets. Last year, the lawmakers also wrote letters to tech CEOs raising the alarm over the increasing rate of Spanish and other non-English language disinformation across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Nextdoor.
“Disinformation, harassment and fraud in Spanish was already a prominent issue that wasn’t properly or consistently addressed before Musk took over as CEO of Twitter. Now, amid the abrupt firing of thousands of critical workers, the dangerous lies have only increased,” Sen. Luján said. “These workers played a vital role in protecting users in the United States and abroad. Dismissing these workers without having a stopgap in place, only leaves Twitter and its Spanish-speaking community at risk for long lasting consequences across the platform. Twitter must act urgently to protect all of its users regardless of the language they speak at home or use online.”
“My colleagues and I have long been leading efforts to hold social media platforms accountable for the unfettered spread of Spanish-language mis/disinformation. Following the recent mass layoffs and staff exodus from Twitter, we are raising the alarm to make sure it is taking the necessary precautions to protect users from internal enforcement gaps that might unnecessarily expose them to bad actors looking to harass, defraud, or propagate harmful disinformation, especially when it comes to targeting Spanish and other non-English users,” Sen. Menendez said.
“We’ve already seen the devastating consequences on our communities when Spanish-language misinformation goes unchecked,” Congressman Cárdenas said. “Elon Musk’s mass layoffs raise serious concerns about Twitter’s ability to protect Spanish speakers and enforce reasonable content moderation policies. Social media has come to play a large role in American life, and we need to know that Twitter will take that responsibility seriously as it goes through this leadership transition.”
“The cuts that Elon Musk has made at Twitter are deeply concerning and have the potential to harm users, particularly non-English language speakers, if left unaddressed,” Rep. Trahan said. “As Twitter’s owner and CEO, Musk has an obligation to ensure all users are protected from harassment and scams, not just the users he likes.”
“Many Spanish-speakers rely on social media as their primary news sources, putting them at greater risk from disinformation. Spanish language disinformation was already a low-priority, but the layoffs of content moderation staff leave Spanish-speaking users more vulnerable to mis- and disinformation, fraud, scams, and harassment. Twitter must address these inequities and put strong protections in place for Spanish-speaking users on the platform,” Rep. Barragán said.
“For years, social media companies have tolerated misinformation and harassment in Spanish that would never be allowed in English. Today, as Twitter purges the workers responsible for global safety, Spanish speakers are facing an unprecedented surge in threats, hate speech, and disinformation. If Twitter wants to be a platform that protects free speech, Elon Musk must reverse cuts to the company’s global safety workforce and build empowered content moderation teams who will keep online trolls and bots from drowning out real voices,” Rep. Castro said.
“Mis and disinformation take on many forms online, ranging from false information about voting times and locations to false claims that immigration enforcement officials are monitoring polling locations,” Chair Dr. Raul Ruiz said. “Such information can spread easily on online platforms. Across the board, there is also a lack of transparency about how social media companies tackle Spanish-language misinformation. Our democracy depends on us acting.”
The full text of the letter is available HERE and below:
Dear Mr. Musk:
We have serious concerns regarding reports of Twitter terminating a large majority of its contractors working domestically and abroad.1,2 These layoffs may have harmful and long-lasting consequences for user safety across the platform, especially for Spanish-language and other non-English language users.
Social media companies, including Twitter, have long outsourced content moderation, one of the most difficult and critical responsibilities on the platform, to overseas contractors.3 Twitter tasks these workers with reviewing illegal, harmful, and traumatic content in order to ensure the safety of the platform’s users. Twitter relies on these contractors for critical language skills and a deep understanding of the cultural context of the market to ensure users are protected from harassment, scams, and content that violates the platform’s existing policies.
All users deserve the same level of protection from harassment, fraud, and illegal activity regardless of the language they speak at home. Despite this core principle, online platforms have regularly failed to consistently enforce their existing policies across non-English languages, including Spanish.4 These gaps in enforcement leave communities vulnerable to bad actors who specifically target these languages with harassment, fraud and disinformation.5 This was particularly damaging during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Spanish-language users in the U.S. 6 and abroad7 were inundated with disinformation about the virus and vaccination efforts. Reports of a spike in racial harassment8 over the past weeks on Twitter proves that this issue requires immediate attention. As such, we are deeply concerned that Twitter may have fired critical staff working to protect users who speak these languages. This comes in the wake of other news that Twitter may have already undermined users’ safety on the platform as a result of other recent layoffs,9 the departure of Twitter’s Global Head of Safety & Integrity,10 and the elimination of teams responsible for overseeing its ethical AI and algorithmic transparency initiatives.11
These workers provided a critical service to Twitter and its users, and reports of their mass and abrupt termination raises serious concerns.
Please provide information regarding how Twitter plans to enforce its policies and provide its non-English language users with the level of service and protections they deserve:
How many staff and contractors has Twitter cut who were previously responsible for content moderation? Please provide an account of the staffing level both prior to November 2022, and after the staffing cuts broken down by the following:
-Country in which the employee is permanently stationed; and
-Language fluency and markets served.
Following the reported staffing cuts, will Twitter maintain the amount of content that it reviews in its original language? What was this ratio prior to, and immediately following the change in staffing?
How will you ensure that the algorithmic processes detecting illegal content and harmful material that otherwise violates Twitter’s policies are equally effective across all languages in which the platform operates?
What support services, including mental health counseling, are currently available to content moderators globally? What percentage of content moderators use these support services? Do you intend to change any of those offerings as part of ongoing restructuring at Twitter?
Twitter recently announced an expansion of its curation program to Latin America, Spain and the US.12 How will the most recent layoffs impact these efforts?
We look forward to your response, which we request by Dec. 6.