Gerardo Fernández Noroña, a congressman for the Labor Party (PT), which is allied with Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, tweeted on November 4: “When it comes to the workers, I regret the firings at @twittermexico; but the fact that they were snakes is undeniable.” He was referring to the layoffs of the company’s Mexico staff, which were part of Elon Musk’s new global strategy.
The jubilation about the layoffs on the platform was shared among other government officials and supporters, who have long been dismissive of social media companies, especially Twitter and Facebook, whose moderation practices the president once said were akin to the Inquisition’s. In 2021, after Donald Trump was banned from the platform, López Obrador proposed the creation of a national social media platform to “guarantee communications and freedom of speech” in the country.
Across social media, López Obrador’s government has claimed that one of the country’s main opposition parties, the right-wing National Action Party (PAN), has long held sway over Twitter Mexico. The president himself has stated that his own supporters and members of his party, Morena, are censored by the platform, while opposition spam accounts are allowed to run amok. However, Rest of World talked to digital rights activists and cross-party political strategists, who all agreed the issues of content moderation within Twitter’s Mexico office were not due to political bias but were, rather, a result of the platform’s overly centralized moderation policies coming out of San Francisco headquarters.
“The local office was the first filter to flag bots and trolls, but San Francisco had the final decision to take them down,” Alberto Escorcia, a social media researcher who worked with Amnesty International on a 2016 report on Twitter Mexico’s trolling problem, told Rest of World.
López Obrador and his allies alleged that Hugo Rodríguez Nicolat, Twitter’s head of public policy for Latin America until this past Friday, continued to be a close member of the PAN establishment and led an anti-government agenda on the platform.
On October 31, after news about the completion of Musk’s Twitter acquisition broke but before the layoffs, López Obrador publicly asked the new CEO to “free the platform” of conservatives that he alleged ran bot farms — a swarm of automated accounts used to push trends on social media — against him. Rest of World reached out to Rodríguez Nicolat but received no answer by the time of publication.
Escorcia said taking down abusive accounts was a process that would often take months, if not years, since the reports from Twitter Mexico’s had to go to Twitter headquarters for approval. He said, however, that the Mexican team’s reports were crucial when action was taken.
Now that most of the Twitter team in Mexico has been laid off, activists worry that conversations on the platform will take a turn for the worse. “From now on, the Twitter that was collectively moderated will cease to exist and will become an advertising tool,” Escorcia said. Grecia Macías, a lawyer at digital rights non profit R3D, who later collaborated with Twitter Mexico’s advisory board to flag bots and trolls, said she worries that most of the flagging of violent or violence-inciting content will be done mostly through automated moderation going forward.
A former social media manager for a Morena candidate, who asked for anonymity because they now work in the government, told Rest of World they didn’t actually think Twitter was politically biased but that the platform’s inefficient moderation led many to that belief. They did highlight how Twitter was extremely slow to address abusive language, especially against women. “After we flagged the accounts that were explicitly violent against our candidate, Twitter said we were right and took them down, but almost a month and a half after the campaign was over,” they told Rest of World.
The former manager said that Twitter’s delayed response was used by the other parties to create a false narrative around the Morena candidate. “When the accounts were finally taken down, it didn’t matter because the damage was done,” they told Rest of World.
The consequences of Twitter’s delays were what helped spread the belief that the platform was biased against López Obrador and his party. That was the general perception across the country, according to Escorcia, the social media researcher who worked on the 2016 Twitter report.
Macías, the lawyer at R3D, confirmed to Rest of World that her organization often helped the local platform’s team identify a specific bot or troll account spreading hate on Twitter. She also confirmed that the final decision to suspend any accounts was taken from San Francisco.
“Tough cases will be harder to hunt down,” Macías said. “This will probably create a hostile environment for those who use the platform in Mexico.”