X, the company formerly known as Twitter, has fired its head of threat intelligence, Aaron Rodericks, and four other members of the team responsible for combating disinformation and misinformation, just months before the US Republican primaries mark the beginning of the 2024 American election cycle—and a year in which more than 50 countries around the world go to the polls.
Just weeks ago, the company said in a blog post that it was expanding its “safety and elections” teams. Around this same time, Rodericks announced on his LinkedIn that his team was adding eight new roles in preparation for the 2024 elections, including a team lead and an elections analyst. CEO Linda Yaccarino recently echoed these plans in an interview with the Financial Times. But just a month later, in response to the Information breaking the news of Rodericks’ firing, Musk tweeted, “Oh you mean the “Election Integrity” Team that was undermining election integrity? Yeah, they’re gone.”
Rodericks’ team focused on identifying and shutting down malicious actors on the platform, including those targeting elections, according to a former Twitter employee familiar with the company’s civic integrity work, who spoke to WIRED on the condition of anonymity. Twitter’s specialist elections team was fired in November 2022, Rodericks ended up taking on a lot of that work,” the former employee says. “He was the last man standing.”
Letting Rodericks and his teammates go will “only embolden malicious actors, and make it easier for them to operate on the platform,” the former employee said.
The year 2024 will see elections in more than 50 countries around the world, including the US, Mexico, India, Indonesia, and several European Union countries.
“We’ve never seen such a huge tidal wave of elections in the age of social media,” says Alexandra Pardal, campaigns director at Digital Action, a nonprofit digital rights organization. X is an important platform in many countries, used by politicians, dissidents, human rights defenders, and influence operations, Pardal says. “So to be cutting staff dedicated to protecting elections at a time when we’re going to enter the biggest cycle of elections globally in our lifetimes, it’s extremely alarming.”
According to reporting from The Irish Times, Rodericks was facing disciplinary action after he allegedly liked tweets that were critical of X and of Musk. In a court filing requesting an injunction on the disciplinary process, Rodericks said he posted the new election-related roles on his X account and then received a deluge of abuse from users, with one even saying Rodericks was hiring a “censorship squad.” Though Rodericks said X did nothing to respond to the online abuse, it did begin a disciplinary process alleging that he had “demonstrated hostility” against the company via his likes. (Last year, Musk fired an engineer who criticized him.)
X did not immediately respond to a request for comment about why Rodericks and his team members were let go now, and what impact this would have on the company’s ability to respond to election threats in 2024. Rodericks declined to comment.