Elon Musk’s chaotic management of Twitter has set off alarm bells for advertisers, among others, concerned about a rise in hateful and inappropriate posts.
But aside from the recent spate of fake certified accounts, the platform has not become a larger source of online disinformation since Musk took over, according to Christopher Ahlberg, chief executive of Recorded Future. The Somerville firm is a leader in tracking the activities of hackers, spies, and crooks across the Internet.
“I don’t think ... fundamentally the amount of disinformation has changed because of this Twitter thing,” Ahlberg said. “It’s probably more the perception that it has changed than it actually changed. But we should certainly watch for it.”
Musk has said he plans to restore thousands of accounts that were banned for spreading misinformation or otherwise violating Twitter’s terms of service. That may lead to uglier conversations but is not likely to impact the amount of scamming or disinformation on the service, Ahlberg said, because purveyors of those types of fraudulent posts have already found ways to get back online.
“It’s not like when their accounts get kicked off Facebook or Twitter they say, ‘OK, they told us to stop, we’re going to stop,’” he explained. “They’re still paid a salary to keep doing what they’re doing.”
However, state-sponsored misinformation was less of a problem during the US midterm election than in 2016 and other elections, Ahlberg noted. That may be in part because Russia is focused on Ukraine, while China and Iran have domestic protests to deal with.
“It seems like things calmed down dramatically,” he said. ”I don’t think that guarantees anything for the next election. But it certainly was better this time than it’s been in a while.”
Despite the ebb and flow of misinformation, Recorded Future’s business remains strong. It will garner more than $250 million in annual recurring revenue this year, Ahlberg said, even as some corners of the economy are slowing and other local cybersecurity companies have cut staff.
“A good proportion of our business is governments, and governments have an ability to keep buying technology through times like this,” he said.
Recorded Future employs about 950 people, and the cutbacks at other companies have made hiring a bit easier. There is “less pressure” from staff being poached and “new talent has come available that wasn’t available before,” Ahlberg said.
Last year, Recorded Future was thinking about going public, but the stock market’s tumble has all but shut off the flow of initial public offerings. Ahlberg said the company is content to wait and could ready itself quickly for an IPO when conditions improve.
“We always try to say, we should be ready to go public at any moment in time,” he said. “There is no reason to push now.”