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Photo illustration of the Twitter bird logo blowing a whistle against a blue sky and clouds.
Chelsea Stahl / MSNBC; Getty Images

Twitter's troubles grow as whistleblower’s testimony looms

The social media platform is already in an acrimonious feud with billionaire Elon Musk. A whistleblower could make matters worse for the company.


Twitter’s war with tech billionaire Elon Musk has created a public relations disaster for the social media company. And it looks like its PR problems are just starting to ramp up. 

In his efforts to back out of his accepted offer to purchase Twitter, Musk has succeeded in whipping up even more scrutiny of the company than usual. His lawsuit, arguing the deal should be void because Twitter allegedly wasn't transparent about the number of bots on the platform, drew renewed attention to the company’s business practices. 

But the company may have bigger fish to fry. On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported Peiter "Mudge" Zatko, a former Twitter cybersecurity chief-turned-whistleblower, is set to testify before Congress about allegations he leveled against the company.

In a whistleblower compliant filed last month with the federal government, Zatko alleged thousands of Twitter employees have access to user data. He also said Twitter "repeatedly" learned of workers who intentionally installed spyware on their computers at the request of external parties.

Zatko said Twitter's inadequate security protocols resulted in almost weekly incidents that rose to the level of notifying federal authorities. And, he said, Twitter may be understating the number of fake accounts — bolstering Musk's claim.

Twitter responded by downplaying some of Zatko’s claims or, with regard to other claims, refusing to comment. And while some observers suggest the whistleblower’s allegations refer to security issues other companies face, as well, simply put: Other companies aren’t Twitter. This is one of the most popular social platforms in the world, and it can ill afford a huge security scandal if it wants to stay that way. 

This scenario is playing out very similarly to the bombshell revelations outlined in Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s congressional testimony last year. Haugen sounded the alarm about allegations Facebook ignored its harmful effects on children and used its news feed to manipulate users. And that seemed to galvanize Congress’ interest in probing Facebook. Twitter seems to be on the verge of similar scrutiny.