Twitter’s new owner, self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” Elon Musk, is about to take a crash course in global content moderation.
Among his first steps after completing its $44 billion takeover on Thursday was to fire the social media platform’s top executives, including the platform’s female trust and security officer, Vijaya Gadde.
He also posted a conciliatory note to wary advertisers, assuring them that he won’t let Twitter turn into a “free-for-all hellscape”.
The problem is not even the richest man in the world can have both meanings.
Lightly moderated “free speech” sites such as Gab and Parler serve as cautionary tales of what can happen when the guardrails are lowered. These small, niche sites are popular with conservatives and libertarians who are fed up with what they see as censorship of their views on mainstream platforms such as Facebook. They are also full of Nazi imagery, racist slurs, and other extreme content, including calls for violence.
Some conservative figures jumped on Twitter on Friday after Musk’s takeover to recirculate long-debunked conspiracy theories in an apparent attempt to see if the site’s policies on misinformation were still being enforced.
Advertisers don’t want to promote their products alongside disturbing, racist and hateful messages – and most people don’t want to spend time in chaotic online spaces where they are beset by racist and sexist trolls.
On Friday, GM announced it would pause advertising on Twitter while he determines the direction of the platform under Musk. But Lou Paskalis, former media manager for Bank of Americasaid Twitter’s most loyal advertisers, many of the Fortune 100 companies, believe in the platform and are unlikely to leave unless “really bad things” happen.
But it’s not just ads and jokes that are at stake.
Eddie Perez, former head of Twitter’s civic integrity team, said Musk seems to view Twitter as a digital public square where everyone has an equal voice. It’s a “picturesque idea of the modern take on the town square,” Perez said.
But that’s not how the major social media platforms work. Instead, they have become powerful tools of asymmetric warfare, and many of their users fail to realize that they are being manipulated by disinformation from nation states and domestic bad actors – many of whom have significant resources.
“The danger here is that in the name of ‘free speech,’ Musk will backtrack and make Twitter a more powerful engine of hate, division and misinformation about elections, public health policy and business. international,” said Paul. Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.
Although he was expected to reinstate banned accounts — ranging from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene — Musk said Friday that no decision on content or reinstatements would be made until ‘a “content moderation board” would not be in place. The council, he wrote, would have “diverse views”, but he did not elaborate.
Musk may be starting from scratch, but Twitter has spent years building its content moderation system, which is still far from perfect. As such, experts have expressed serious concerns about Musk’s efforts – after all, the You’re here The CEO has little experience navigating the capricious, geopolitical world of social media, despite being a constant and hugely popular user of the site he just bought.
“I am deeply concerned by Musk’s decision to summarily fire Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of legal, trust and safety policy – a senior executive who was trying, albeit imperfectly, to prevent the platform to spread even more harmful content than it does.” said Barrett.
Many are looking to see if he will welcome back a number of influential conservative figures banned for breaking Twitter’s rules – speculation that is only intensifying with upcoming elections in Brazil, the United States and elsewhere.
“I’ll dig deeper today,” Musk tweeted early Friday, in response to a conservative political podcaster who complained that the platform favors liberals and secretly degrades conservative voices.
Former President Donald Trump, an avid tweeter before his ban, said on Friday he was “very happy that Twitter is now in good hands” but promoted his own social media site, Truth Social, which he launched after being blocked from the most widely used. Platform.
Trump was banned two days after the January 6 attacks for a pair of tweets that the company said continued to cast doubts on the legitimacy of the presidential election and raised risks to the presidential nomination in which Trump said he would not participate.
Another task for Musk: keep their promise to clean up fake profilesor “spam bots” that preoccupied and plagued him on Twitter long before he expressed interest in acquiring it.
The bot count is important because advertisers – Twitter’s main source of revenue – want to know roughly how many real humans they reach when buying ads. It’s also important in the effort to prevent bad actors from amassing an army of accounts to amplify misinformation or harass political opponents.
—Associated Press writers Frank Bajak, Jill Colvin and Mae Anderson contributed to this story.
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