Twitter blamed the deletion of President Trump’s Twitter account on Thursday night on a rogue customer support employee. That employee has since been hailed in social media as a hero and as a scourge for acting against the president, who said the move reflected the impact his Twitter messages have had.
Yet it turns out the rogue employee was not a full-time employee at Twitter at all, according to two people briefed on the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details are confidential. The person who shut down Mr. Trump’s account was a contractor, the people said.
The discovery highlights a difficult issue for Twitter, as well as other technology companies that rely on large amounts of contract workers to handle sensitive work. Facebook, Twitter and other companies outsource content review to third-party services like ProUnlimited and Cognizant, which are essentially internet call centers staffed with hundreds of workers who deal with customer service issues.
Facebook and Twitter had spent much of the early part of this week testifying in congressional hearings about how they planned to hire more people to help prohibit the misuse of their platforms. Facebook said it was hiring an additional 10,000 workers to review flagged content, bringing the total to 20,000 by the end of 2018.
But in a conference call with investors earlier this week, the social network said many of these will likely not be full-time employees; the company will largely rely on third-party contractors.
Twitter employees have expressed concern about the widely available nature of internal tools for handling customer accounts. Hundreds of employees are able to access the accounts of so-called Very Important Tweeters, or VITs, and can take actions like disabling the accounts, according to current and former Twitter employees. Twitter customer support cannot, however, access customers’ private direct messages, nor can they tweet on behalf of other users, these people said.
A Twitter spokeswoman referred to the company’s earlier remarks, noting it is conducting an internal investigation into the matter.