However, that’s just one possibility in Musk’s era, which is just beginning. Now that”The bird is released“, as he wrote on Thursday after the official acquisition, many users are concerned that after years of slow improvements in the billionaire’s functionality, policies and moderation processes, the billionaire’s acquisition will largely lead to their deterioration.
Those fears are not unfounded: while so much of what Musk will do leaves us in the dark, he was clear that there would be sweeping policy changes under his leadership. In addition to potentially complying with local laws of authoritarian governments, this could include relaxing the platform’s speech rules and a user authentication Requirement that would challenge users’ ability to remain anonymous. He’s also made a number of pithy and sometimes conflicting statements about how he believes the site should moderate content — including that Twitter should and will only remove illegal speech.
And there are already plays where we don’t have to guess. While Musk recently claimed he plans to lay off a third of the company’s workforce, it was reported late Thursday that top executives had been fired and “hastily escorted out of the company’s headquarters.” These included Vijaya Gadde, the company’s head of legal policy, trust and safety, who angered Musk in an April tweet.
Gadde’s tenure was not without controversy, but under her leadership the legal team made significant policy advances, many aimed at protecting the platform’s most vulnerable users. Twitter fended off attempts by US courts to expose anonymous users; cracked down on botnets and other influence operations; worked with the New Zealand government to develop tools to facilitate independent research on the impact of user interactions with algorithmic systems; banned political advertising ahead of the 2020 US election; and hired researchers to examine the health of the discourse on the site.
For many of Twitter’s vulnerable users, these changes represented major advances from its early days as the “free speech wing of the Free Speech Party,” where just about anything — including terrorist content, harassment, and hate speech — could be found. But Musk has stated that “Freedom of expression is the bedrock of a functioning democracy and Twitter is the digital marketplace where matters important to the future of humanity are debated.” While he recently tempered earlier statements by saying he won’t turn Twitter into a “free-for-all hellscape,” it seems pretty clear that the new boss intends to reverse some of Twitter’s rules.
Musk has also said he would limit Twitter’s attempts to combat misinformation and disinformation. This would be a mistake. Twitter has carefully crafted policies and tools that allow free discourse while preventing the spread of false content, such as: With major elections looming in dozens of countries over the next two years, these tools are essential to ensure Twitter remains a space for civic engagement.