Elon Musk's Next Twitter Challenge: Figuring Out How His Conversations Can Be Moderated


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Elon Musk has acknowledged he doesn't have the solutions to all of Twitter's problems. Among its biggest: how to moderate divisive content material shared on the service.

For years, Twitter and different social networks have struggled to police offensive content material such as hate speech, harassment and misinformation that may result in real-world harm. Progressives and civil rights activists say the platforms aren't doing sufficient to crack down on offensive posts. Conservatives say Twitter censors their speech, an allegation the corporate denies. 

No one appears happy with how Twitter decides what will get taken down and what's left up.

Now Musk, the world's richest person, has thrust himself into the center of the debate. On Monday, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO struck a $44 billion deal to purchase Twitter, which he plans to take private. He's indicated he wants looser content material moderation for the platform, a change that would have outsized affect on politics and society. 

The deal has sparked concerns amongst employees and advocacy teams about whether or not the serial entrepreneur might undo efforts Twitter has taken to fight dangerous content, such as COVID misinformation. It has additionally raised questions about whether or not Twitter could welcome again Twitter customers the corporate has banned. Last year, the social community famously banned former President Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection due to fears his feedback could incite violence. Trump has said he will not return to Twitter.

"Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy," Musk said in a Monday press release, dubbing Twitter a "digital city square" for debating issues. On Tuesday, he tweeted, "By 'free speech', I merely imply that which matches the law."

(Free speech is protected under the First Amendment, which safeguards residents from authorities interference, however that modification to the US Constitution doesn't apply to companies, such as Twitter, that are allowed to set guidelines for moderating content.)

Content moderation is a nuanced practice, one thing Musk is aware of firsthand. In 2020, Musk falsely tweeted that "kids are essentially immune" from COVID-19. Children do catch the virus and can suffer the identical results as adults, although at a decrease rate. Twitter told Axios the tweet did not violate its guidelines against dangerous coronavirus misinformation since it wasn't "definitive."

Katie Harbath, a former public coverage director at Facebook who now leads consultancy Anchor Change, said in a Twitter direct message that she doesn't expect main changes proper away at Twitter. Over time, however, Musk could allocate fewer resources to content material moderation, Harbath said. 

Musk will likely be extra concerned in decision making than Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey was, she added.

A Twitter spokeswoman declined to remark past earlier statements the corporate has made. Before the deal was struck, Twitter said that it had no plans to reverse any previous coverage decisions and that its employees and managers make the day-to-day decisions. 

Still, advocacy teams are sounding alarms about the deal.

"We ought to be worried about any highly effective central actor, whether or not it is a authorities or any rich particular person -- even when it is an ACLU member -- having a lot management over the boundaries of our political speech online," the American Civil Liberties Union said in a tweet. Musk is an ACLU member and supporter of the nonprofit.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a assertion that Musk hasn't focused on tackling hate speech and extremism.

"We fear that he could take issues in a actually different direction," Greenblatt said. "Moreover, as a private company, Twitter will lack the transparency and accountability of a public firm."

Mariana Ruiz Firmat, executive director of technology-focused racial justice group Kairos, said Musk's possession of Twitter will result in a rollback of content material moderation under the guise of "free speech."

The deal, she said, "is alarming to the employees, advocates and customers who've fought for years to push the corporate to undertake appropriate security and disinformation guidelines."

Musk's views on content material moderation

Musk, who as soon as described himself as a "free speech absolutist," has publicly shared his ideas about content material moderation. 

On April 14, Musk said in a TED Talk in Canada that Twitter ought to let customers know when a piece of content material will get promoted and demoted on the site. Free speech, in his opinion, means somebody is allowed to say one thing on Twitter one other person doesn't like. 

"I'm not saying I have all of the solutions right here however I do think that we wish to be very reluctant to delete issues and be very cautious with everlasting bans," Musk said. "Time-outs I think are better."

Last week, Musk tweeted that a "social media platform's insurance policies are good if the most excessive 10% on left and proper are equally unhappy." 

But taking down speech is solely a half of content material moderation. Leaving up harassment or hate speech could have a "chilling effect" in which users, particularly minorities and women, do not really feel comfortable talking on Twitter, said Emma Llansó, director of the free expression project on the Center for Democracy and Technology.

While opening up Twitter's algorithm could make the social community extra transparent, spammers and bad actors could additionally use that information to attempt to abuse the system so their tweets get promoted higher on the timeline.

"Every decision like this finally ends up having these sorts of tradeoffs in content material moderation," Llansó said. "It's the place actually taking the time to think it through actually carefully and perceive each the intended and unintended penalties of a big transfer goes to be actually important."


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