Inside Elon Musk’s First Election Crisis—a Day After He ‘Freed’ the Bird


The day after Elon Musk closed his deal to purchase Twitter, the corporate’s Seattle workplace held a Halloween celebration for workers and their kids. Rebecca Scott Thein wearing vibrant inexperienced to play an alien to her daughter’s Buzz Lightyear. Thein, whose job at Twitter (now X) was to assist the platform plan for and navigate elections, was driving to the celebration when an pressing name got here in. On the opposite finish of the cellphone was a member of Twitter’s coverage crew. The corporate had simply acquired a “consent decree”—basically, a menace of authorized motion—in Brazil, which was about to carry runoffs for extremely polarized presidential and gubernatorial elections.

An avowed free speech absolutist, Musk had already publicly introduced that he would pare again content material moderation—the methods and groups that Twitter had in place to cope with problematic materials on its platform. The issue was, Twitter had already committed to doing one thing in regards to the quantity of election-related misinformation in Brazil. The Brazilian authorities wished Twitter to face by its guarantees. If it didn’t comply, the coverage crew member informed her, the Brazilian authorities might fine the corporate or shut off the platform—which had greater than 19 million users within the nation. One thing wanted to be accomplished, and shortly.

Thein recollects arriving at an workplace of listless staff—many taking part in foosball and lounging about, as there was no work to be accomplished. Shortly after Musk took over, the corporate had locked down lots of its inside methods to make sure no modifications had been made in the course of the management handover (and coming layoffs). “Our lively listing obtained shut off, all of our methods had been shut off,” says Thein. She had no approach of realizing which leaders nonetheless labored on the firm or who to carry the alert to. “I obtained this name and I simply thought, ‘Oh, no, What do I do? Nobody is on-line.’”

Thein ducked right into a glass-walled convention room and, utilizing what she knew of Twitter’s e mail conventions, started guessing on the contact particulars of the brand new management crew. As dad and mom and youngsters arrived to a DJ and inflatable ghosts overlooking the Seattle skyline, Thein puzzled who was even round to do something in regards to the Brazil downside.

What adopted was a chaotic rush to attempt to plug gaps in Twitter’s processes and forestall the platform from changing into a vector of mis- and disinformation throughout a serious election. To know what occurred, WIRED spoke with 5 individuals concerned in managing the disaster.

Thein now worries that what she skilled in these early days of Musk’s management was much less a fluke than a harbinger. A yr later, Thein, in addition to different former staff and specialists, fear that X, gutted by layoffs and helmed by a pacesetter hostile to moderation, is careening towards catastrophe in 2024. It’s a yr by which greater than 50 nations—together with the US—will maintain elections.

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