Elon Musk’s Twitter at a crossroads


The discourse was by no means all that civil on Twitter. The loudest voices have typically drowned out softer, extra nuanced takes. After all, it is a lot simpler to rage-tweet at a perceived enemy than to hunt widespread floor, whether or not the argument is about transgender youngsters or baseball.

In the chaos that has enveloped Twitter the platform — and Twitter the corporate — since Elon Musk took over, it has develop into clear this is not altering anytime quickly. In reality, it is more likely to get a lot worse earlier than it will get higher — if it will get higher at all.

Musk, along with his band of tech trade loyalists, arrived at Twitter simply over a week in the past able to tear down the blue chicken’s nest and rebuild it in his imaginative and prescient with breakneck velocity. He rapidly fired high executives and the board of administrators, put in himself as the corporate’s sole director (for now) and declared himself “Chief Twit,” then “Twitter Complaint Hotline Operator” on his bio.

On Friday, he started mass layoffs at the San Francisco-based firm, letting go about half of its staff by way of electronic mail to return it to staffing ranges not seen since 2014.

All the whereas, he is continued to tweet a mixture of crude memes, half-jokes, SpaceX rocket launches and maybe-maybe not plans for Twitter that he appears to be workshopping on the location in actual time. After floating the concept of charging customers $20 a month for the “blue examine” and a few additional options, as an example, he appeared to rapidly scale it again in a Twitter alternate with writer Stephen King, who posted, “If that will get instituted, I’m gone like Enron.”

“We have to pay the payments in some way! Twitter can’t rely totally on advertisers. How about $8?” Musk replied. On Saturday, the corporate introduced a subscription service for $7.99 month-to-month that permits anybody on Twitter to pay a payment for the examine mark “identical to the celebrities, corporations and politicians you already comply with” in addition to some premium options — not but obtainable — like getting their tweets boosted above these coming from accounts with out the blue examine. It’s not clear when the fee-based verification tag will develop into obtainable. It replaces what had been thought-about a security characteristic designed to discourage counterfeit accounts.

The billionaire Tesla CEO has repeatedly engaged with right-wing figures interesting for looser restrictions on hate and misinformation. He acquired congratulations from Dimitry Medvedev, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s high affiliate, and tweeted — then deleted — a baseless conspiracy concept about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, who was attacked in his residence.

More than three dozen advocacy organizations wrote an open letter to Twitter’s high 20 advertisers, calling on them to decide to halting promoting on the platform if Twitter underneath Musk undermines “model security” and guts content material moderation.

“Not solely are extremists celebrating Musk’s takeover of Twitter, they’re seeing it as a new alternative to put up essentially the most abusive, harassing, and racist language and imagery. This contains clear threats of violence in opposition to folks with whom they disagree,” the letter mentioned.

One of Musk’s first strikes was to fireplace the lady answerable for belief and security at the platform, Vijaya Gadde. But he has stored on Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of security and integrity, and has taken steps to reassure customers and advertisers that the location will not flip into a “free-for-all hellscape” that some concern it would.

On Friday, he tweeted that “Twitter’s sturdy dedication to content material moderation stays completely unchanged. In reality, we have now really seen hateful speech at occasions this week decline (asterisk)beneath(asterisk) our prior norms, opposite to what it’s possible you’ll learn within the press.” A rising variety of advertisers are nonetheless pausing spending on Twitter whereas they reassess how Musk’s modifications would possibly improve objectionable materials on the platform.

Musk additionally met with some civil rights leaders “about how Twitter will proceed to fight hate & harassment & implement its election integrity insurance policies,” in keeping with a tweet he despatched Nov. 1.

But representatives of the LGBTQ group had been notably absent from the assembly, despite the fact that its members are much more more likely to be victims of violent crime than these outdoors of such communities. Twitter didn’t reply to a message for touch upon whether or not Musk plans to fulfill with LGBTQ teams.

The mercurial billionaire has mentioned he will not make main selections about content material or restoring banned accounts — corresponding to that of former President Donald Trump — earlier than establishing a “content material moderation council” with various viewpoints. The council, he later added, will embrace “the civil rights group and teams who face hate-fueled violence.” But specialists have identified that Twitter already has a belief and security advisory council to handle moderation questions.

“Truly I can not think about how it will differ,” mentioned Danielle Citron, a University of Virginia regulation professor who sits on the council and has been working with Twitter since its infancy in 2009 to deal with on-line harms, corresponding to threats and stalking. “Our council has the complete spectrum of views on free speech.”

Some quantity of chaos is predicted after a company takeover, as are layoffs and firings. But Musk’s murky plans for Twitter — particularly its content material moderation, misinformation and hate speech insurance policies — are elevating alarms about the place one of many world’s most high-profile info ecosystems is headed. All that appears sure is that for now, at least, as Elon Musk goes, so goes Twitter.

“I hope that accountability and maturity will win the day,” mentioned Eddie Perez, a former Twitter civic integrity crew chief who left the corporate earlier than Musk took over. “It’s one factor to be a billionaire troll on Twitter and to attempt to get laughs with memes and to yuk it up. You are actually the proprietor of Twitter and there is a new degree of accountability.”

For now, although, the memes seem like successful. This issues specialists like Perez, who fear Musk is shifting too quick with out listening to individuals who have been working to enhance civility on the platform and as a substitute utilizing his personal insular expertise as one of many platform’s hottest customers with thousands and thousands of fawning followers who hail his each transfer.

“You have a single billionaire that’s controlling one thing as influential as a social media platform like Twitter. And you may have complete nation states (whose) political targets are inimical to our personal, and they’re attempting to create chaos and they’re straight courting favour” with Musk, Perez mentioned.

“There’s simply no world by which all of that’s regular,” he added. “That ought to completely concern us.”

Twitter did not begin out as a cesspool. And even now there are pockets of humorous, bizarre, nerdy subgroups on the platform that stay considerably insulated from the messy and confrontational place it could actually seem like if one follows too many hot-headed agitators. But as with Facebook, Twitter’s rise additionally coincided with rising polarization and a measurable decline in on-line civility within the United States and past.

“The large understanding that occurred between 2008 and 2012 is that the way in which to get traction, the way in which to get consideration on any social media, Twitter included, was to make use of incendiary language — to problem the fundamental humanity of the opposition,” mentioned Lee Rainie, director of web and know-how analysis at the Pew Research Center.

Things continued to devolve because the 2016 U.S. presidential election approached and handed, and the brand new president cemented his fame as one among Twitter’s most incendiary customers. After it was revealed that Russia used social media platforms to attempt to affect elections within the U.S. and different international locations, the platforms themselves turned central figures within the political debate.

“Do they’ve an excessive amount of energy? Do their content material moderation insurance policies privilege one facet or one other?” Rainie mentioned. “The corporations themselves discovered themselves within the thick of essentially the most intense arguments within the tradition. And so that is the setting that Elon Musk is getting into now.”

And past the bluster and the outsized persona, Musk’s personal description of his new job — “Twitter Complaint Hotline Operator” — could develop into his greatest problem but.


AP Technology Writer Frank Bajak contributed to this story.


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