cesspool or courtesy? Elon Musk’s Twitter at a crossroads
(dpa) – The discourse on Twitter was never so civil. The loudest voices have often drowned out softer, more nuanced takes. After all, whether it’s transgender kids or baseball, it’s a lot easier to tweet about a perceived enemy than it is to seek common ground.
In the chaos that has engulfed the Twitter platform — and Twitter as a company — since Elon Musk’s takeover, it’s become clear that this isn’t about to change anytime soon. In fact, it’s likely to get a lot worse before it gets better — if it gets better at all.
Musk took to Twitter with his group of tech industry loyalists just over a week ago, poised to tear down the blue bird’s nest and rebuild it in his vision at breakneck speed. He quickly fired top executives and the board of directors, set himself up as the company’s sole director (for the time being), and declared himself “chief twit” in his biography, then “operator of the Twitter complaints hotline”.
On Friday, he began mass layoffs at the San Francisco-based company, firing about half of its employees via email to bring it back to a staffing level not seen since 2014.
All the while, he continues to tweet a mix of crude memes, half-jokes, SpaceX rocket launches, and maybe – maybe not – plans for Twitter, which he appears to be editing in real time on the site. For example, after pitching the idea of charging users $20 a month for the “blue check” and some extra features, he seemed quick to scale back in a Twitter exchange with author Stephen King, who wrote, “If that’s rolled out will, I’m gone like Enron.”
“We have to pay the bills somehow! Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers. How about $8?” Musk replied. On Saturday, the company announced a $7.99 monthly subscription service that allows anyone on Twitter to pay a fee to “tick just like the celebrities, businesses, and politicians you already follow” and some premium features – not yet available – how to pay Your tweets will be boosted beyond those of accounts without the blue tick.
Tesla’s billionaire CEO has also repeatedly taken issue with right-wing figures who advocate looser restraints on hate and misinformation, received congratulations from Dmitry Medvedev, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s best aide, and launched an unfounded conspiracy theory about the House Speaker’s husband , Nancy Pelosi, tweeted – then deleted , who was attacked in his apartment.
More than three dozen advocacy groups wrote an open letter to Twitter’s top 20 advertisers, urging them to commit to stopping advertising on the platform if Twitter under Musk undermines “brand safety” and content moderation.
“Not only are extremists celebrating Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, they see it as a new opportunity to post the most abusive, harassing and racist language and images. This includes clear threats of violence against anyone they disagree with,” the letter reads.
One of Musk’s first steps was to fire the woman in charge of trust and safety on the platform, Vijaya Gadde. But he has stood by Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of security and integrity, and taken steps to reassure users and advertisers that the site will not turn into a “free hellscape,” as some fear.
On Friday, he tweeted that “Twitter’s strong commitment to content moderation remains absolutely unchanged. In fact, at times this week we’ve seen hate speech drop below (asterisk) our previous norms, contrary to what you may read in the press.” A growing number of advertisers are still pausing output on Twitter, while re-evaluating how Musk’s changes could lead to more objectionable material on the platform.
Musk also met with some civil rights activists “about how Twitter will continue to fight hate and harassment and enforce its election integrity policies,” according to a tweet he sent Nov. 1.
But representatives of the LGBTQ community were notably absent from the gathering, even though their members are far more likely to be victims of violent crime than those outside such communities. Twitter didn’t respond to a message to comment on whether Musk plans to meet with LGBTQ groups.
The moody billionaire has said he won’t make any major decisions about content or restoring suspended accounts – like former President Donald Trump’s – before establishing a “Content Moderation Council” with differing viewpoints. The council, he later added, will include “the civil rights community and groups facing hateful violence.” However, experts have pointed out that Twitter already has a Trust and Safety Advisory Board that deals with moderation issues.
“I really can’t imagine how it would be any different,” said Danielle Citron, a University of Virginia law professor who sits on the council and has worked with Twitter since Twitter’s inception in 2009 to address online harm, such as threats and combat stalking. “Our council has the full spectrum of views on freedom of expression.”
Some chaos is to be expected after a corporate takeover, along with layoffs and layoffs. But Musk’s murky plans for Twitter — particularly its policies on content moderation, misinformation, and hate speech — are raising alarms about where one of the world’s best-known information ecosystems is headed. All that seems certain is that, at least for now, like Elon Musk, so will Twitter.
“I hope that responsibility and maturity will prevail,” said Eddie Perez, a former Twitter civic integrity team leader who left before Musk took over. “It’s one thing to be a billionaire troll on Twitter trying to get laughs and itch with memes. You are now the owner of Twitter and there is a new level of responsibility.”
For now, however, the memes seem to be winning. This affects pundits like Perez, who fear Musk is moving too fast without listening to the people who have been working to improve politeness on the platform, and instead his own island experience as one of the platform’s most popular users with millions of people enthusiastic fans who welcome his every move.
“You have a single billionaire controlling something as influential as a social media platform like Twitter. And you have entire nation-states[whose]political goals are hostile to our own, and they’re trying to create chaos, and they’re courting Musk’s favor directly,” Perez said.
“There’s just no world where it’s all normal,” he added. “That should definitely keep us busy.”
Twitter didn’t start out as a cesspool. And even now, there are small, fun, weird, nerdy subgroups on the platform that remain somewhat isolated from the chaotic and confrontational place that following too many hot-headed agitators can seem. But like Facebook, the rise of Twitter has coincided with a growing polarization and measurable decline in online civilization in the United States and beyond.
“The big understanding that emerged between 2008 and 2012 was that the way to get traction, the way to get attention on all social media, including Twitter, was to use inflammatory language — to get the basic challenging the humanity of the opposition,” said Lee Rainie, director of internet and technology research at Pew Research Center.
Things progressed as the 2016 US presidential election drew near and passed, and the incoming president cemented his reputation as one of Twitter’s most riotous users. After it was revealed that Russia was using social media platforms to try to influence elections in the US and other countries, the platforms became central figures in the political debate.
“Do you have too much power? Do their content moderation policies favor one side or the other?” said Rainie. “Companies themselves found themselves in the midst of the most intense struggles in culture. And that is the environment that Elon Musk is now entering.”
And beyond the din and oversized personality, Musk’s own description of his new job — “Twitter complaint hotline operator” — could prove to be his biggest challenge yet.
‘ ; var i = Math.floor(r_text.length * Math.random()); document.write(r_text[i]);