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Musk's X seeks job applicants to stop disinformation, promote 'credible' election stories

Team leader for new hires is following "every high-level spook & censorship industry heavyweight in the world" on BlueSky, rival to company formerly known as Twitter, ex-State official says.

Published: August 16, 2023 11:03pm

Updated: August 18, 2023 2:17pm

Elon Musk purchased Twitter vowing to make it friendlier to free speech, and repeatedly aired its dirty laundry through the release of the Twitter Files that chronicled past censorship efforts. But months later, with the 2024 election on the horizon, the company now known as X is in the market for applicants for some disinformation-fighting jobs.

And that has some free-speech advocates alarmed.

X is seeking job applicants for two positions on its threat disruption team who are "passionate about protecting users from global disinformation" and "helping people find credible information online" in the context of elections.

Team leader Aaron Rodericks not only touts his profile on X rival BlueSky in his X bio, but is actively recruiting applicants through a subscription newsletter on disinformation that includes unflattering coverage of Musk, raising the question how involved the mercurial South African remains in his company.

Critics of the allegedly coercive relationship between social media companies and federal agencies quickly flagged the jobs as "censorship positions," in the words of former State Department cyber official Mike Benz, whose Foundation for Freedom Online critically researches public-private efforts against purported misinformation.

Users also collected the accounts Rodericks follows on BlueSky, which Benz characterized as "every high-level spook & censorship industry heavyweight in the world." 

They include leaders of anti-disinformation groups that closely worked with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, among them Stanford Internet Observatory's Renee DiResta, whose boss Alex Stamos has acknowledged she "worked for the CIA." 

Social media analyst Kristen Ruby, whom Benz agrees first brought the job listings to wider attention, noted in February that Musk-owned Twitter still had its recently renamed civic integrity misleading information policy.

It authorizes X to remove, throttle and label "content that may suppress participation" as well as "mislead" about civic processes, cause "confusion" or contain "satirical or humorous elements."

The Twitter Files revealed Rodericks was a skeptic of the U.S. government's reports of disinformation and foreign influence. He claimed internally that the State Department's Global Engagement Center, which funds anti-populist tech worldwide, "doubled their budget by aggressively overstating threats."

Rodericks promoted the positions in a little-noticed post Aug. 11 that said interviews had already started for the "civic integrity/elections" lead and senior investigator for information operations.

When another user asked if "only active CIA need apply," referring to the reported presence of former spies in social media companies, Rodericks answered: "If she meets the job description your mother can apply." He later thanked Benz directly for giving more visibility to the positions.

Asked how he squared his skepticism of GEC claims with the duties he's hiring for, Rodericks told Just the News on X: "Be skeptical of all claims until proven with evidence. GEC had terrible methodology for their social media research. As a govt org they have a greater responsibility to be accurate when making claims."

Both job listings open by touting X as a company "working tirelessly to preserve free expression" while "increas[ing] the costs to bad actors for manipulating the platform and mitigat[ing] associated harm."

The elections job, which has global authority, is tasked with protecting "information integrity" and "civic conversations" on X. Qualified applicants are passionate about "combating threats to online conversational health … aren’t afraid of tackling high-impact problems at massive scale" and should be fluent in official European Union languages.

The information operations job also includes "election interference" and "online conversational health" duties "at massive scale." Qualified applicants will "have a deep understanding of geopolitical, disinformation, and cybersecurity trends," with fluency in Russian, Mandarin or Cantonese preferred.

Rodericks posted links to the jobs from DisinfoDocket.com, which was spun off last year from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Partnership for Countering Influence Operations. Its seed funding comes from the anti-disinformation DISARM Foundation, a project of the similarly aligned Alliance 4 Europe.

"DisinfoDocket curates the latest research and media reporting on influence operations and delivers it to your inbox 3 times a week" with a paid subscription, according to the site. Select portions of newsletters, but not job listings, are visible to non-subscribers.

DisinfoDocket only identifies its two-person team by first name on its website "as a small level of friction against people who like to send women who post about disinformation abusive messages," curator Victoria Smith told Just the News. 

Her research as a onetime Carnegie analyst is linked from the site, making Smith publicly identifiable. DisinfoDocket spun off when Smith's Carnegie contract ended "amicably," she said.

"We are both women with young families so don’t like to draw attention to ourselves, given the hostile nature of working in this field," Smith said. The website is "very niche," giving out free subscriptions "to those who ask," and they do not get paid for "almost all of our work." 

While Smith said she and "Kate" put their "full names" in each newsletter they write, they only appear to be in the emailed versions, not the non-subscriber versions on the website. She also said their names were public through DisinfoDocket's LinkedIn page, but couldn't explain why LinkedIn displayed them as "Victoria S" and "LinkedIn Member" to Just the News reporters viewing the same page in different locations.

Benz, the former State Department official, and analyst Ruby both flagged DisinfoDocket's promotion of Indiana University's Observatory on Social Media (OSoMe) and its "Top FIBers" dashboard of the top 10 "superspreaders of low-quality information" each month. Conservative personalities Dan Bongino, Sean Hannity and Charlie Kirk are in the top 5 this month.

DiResta, formerly of the CIA, was initially scheduled to address OSoMe Sept. 13, according to Google's Aug. 5 cache. The current events page lists the date as to be determined. Neither includes the subject of DiResta's talk or her CIA connection.

"As we were finalizing the schedule for the series, Renee DiResta requested to move her talk later this fall," OSoMe  Executive Director Caitlin Watkins told Just the News. "We are still working with her to determine the new date" and hope to finalize it "in the next few weeks."

Twitter media relations sent Just the News an auto-acknowledgement of its query about the seeming clash between the jobs as listed and Musk's reputation as a free-speech hawk, and Rodericks' use of DisinfoDockets to recruit candidates. 

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