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Twitter reportedly knew Spaces could be misused due to a lack of moderation

Company executives forged ahead with the audio chat feature despite warnings, according to 'The Washington Post.'
UKRAINE - 2021/03/12: In this photo illustration the Twitter Spaces page is seen on a smartphone screen  with a Twitter logo in the background. 
Twitter Spaces, the rival of the social Clubhouse network, is working towards a public launch in April, as the company announced on Twitter, reportedly by media. (Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
SOPA Images via Getty Images
Kris Holt
Kris Holt|@krisholt|December 10, 2021 3:15 PM

Since Twitter Spaces debuted earlier this year, hundreds of people have reportedly joined live audio discussions led by "Taliban supporters, white nationalists, and anti-vaccine activists sowing coronavirus misinformation." According to The Washington Post, Twitter didn't have the moderation tools necessary to combat bullying, calls for violence and hate speech in Spaces before rolling out the Clubhouse competitor — despite executives knowing that would likely lead to misuse.

Spaces doesn't have human moderators or tech that can monitor audio in real-time. It's much more difficult to automatically review audio than text. So far, Twitter has relied on the community to report Spaces they think violates the company's rules. However, if a host uses the feature as a soapbox to share transphobic, racist or otherwise bigoted views (as has reportedly happened), and their audience agrees with them, it seems unlikely that a listener will report the discussion to Twitter's safety team.

According to the report, Twitter's technology helped some of these discussions to go viral. Because these Spaces were amassing large audiences, the systems understood them to be popular, and promoted them to more users. Twitter spokesperson Viviana Wiewall told the Post the supposed bug has been dealt with.

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“Ensuring people’s safety and encouraging healthy conversations, while helping hosts and listeners to control their experience, have been key priorities since the beginning of [Spaces’] development,” Wiewall told the publication. Wiewall noted that the company is "exploring avenues" in terms of moderating Spaces in real-time, "but it’s not something that we have available at this time.”

The spokesperson noted that Twitter did have some protections in place. It can scan the titles of Spaces to look for keywords that raise red flags, but modified spellings can ensure problematic words bypass the filters.

Twitter employees are said to have raised concerns about unmoderated live audio rooms, but some of those who suggested the company should slow down and work on technology to improve safety were reportedly dismissed from or left out of meetings. Leaders forged ahead with the Spaces feature anyway, at least in part to appease investors by speeding up product development and generating more revenue.

Since August, hosts who meet certain criteria have been able to charge for access to Spaces, with Twitter taking a cut. The company has been chasing other revenue streams beyond advertising, including newsletters and the Twitter Blue premium subscription. There have been issues with some of those products too. The Tip Jar feature, through which users can send payments to each other as tips, exposed some tippers' home addresses via certain types of PayPal transactions.

Engadget has contacted Twitter for comment.

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