Musk moves quickly to remodel Twitter

Elon Musk wasted no time beginning to remodel Twitter after closing his deal to acquire the company Thursday night, quickly cutting key staff, doubling down on plans to lift lifelong bans and previewing plans for a council to determine content decisions.

The changes he’s made so far confirmed suspicions critics had about the direction the billionaire space and auto executive, known for being a Twitter troll himself, would take the company in, and are adding fuel to the chorus of critics worried Musk’s reign at Twitter will allow misinformation and hate speech to thrive on the platform.

Musk’s decision to take Twitter private will also allow him to transform the platform — including its content moderation policies and financial priorities — with less oversight from regulators and without having to publicly disclose updates every few months to show how the company is performing. 

Musk made a nod to changes to come at Twitter in his typical style shortly after taking control of the company, tweeting Thursday night “the bird is free.” 

Among the first changes he made were immediate cuts of top Twitter executives.

Musk reportedly fired CEO Parag Agrawal, Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal and chief legal counsel Vijaya Gadde, letting them go with a hefty payout of around $187 million, CNN reported.

Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, said he is most concerned about Musk’s decision to fire Gadde, a senior executive Barrett said was “trying, however imperfectly, to keep the platform from spreading even more harmful content than it does.” 

Barrett said he is concerned that “in the name of ‘free speech’” Musk is going to “turn back the clock” to make Twitter into a “more potent engine of hatred, divisiveness, and misinformation about elections, public health policy, and international affairs.” 

“This is not going to be pretty,” Barrett said. 

Musk tweeted Friday afternoon that Twitter will be forming a “content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints.” He said that “no major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before that council convenes.”

But Bloomberg reported, citing an anonymous source, that Musk doesn’t believe in lifelong bans. Musk previously said he would reverse the permanent ban Twitter imposed on former President Trump’s account last year.

It is not clear yet to what extent the proposed council will factor into decisions of that kind. For example, Meta’s Oversight Board is able to make binding decisions regarding content on the site but the tech giant is able to choose whether to accept its Oversight Board’s recommendations on policy changes. 

Musk hinted that more changes to the status of accounts banned under previous leadership are to come in the early days of his leadership. In response to a right-wing influencer who said they were still “shadowbanned” after one day of Musk owning the site, the new self-described “Chief Twit” said he “will be digging in more today.” 

Trump seems poised to gain access to his account again under Musk’s ownership, as Musk previously indicated. At that time, the Tesla CEO called the decision to ban Trump a “morally bad decision” and “foolish.”

Twitter took the unprecedented step to ban a U.S. president after ruling that Trump violated the platform’s policy on incitement of violence with posts he made about the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol. 

The former president cheered Musk’s takeover of Twitter, but told Fox News he would be staying on Truth Social.

“I like it better, I like the way it works. I like Elon, but I’m staying on Truth,” Trump said. 

But joining Twitter again, if he is allowed to, would give Trump access to a wider audience ahead of a potential 2024 run. Truth Social received roughly 9 million visits in August, versus Twitter’s 6.8 billion the same month, according to data from SimilarWeb.

Other conservative figures have also welcomed the takeover by Musk, whose plan to run Twitter with a more relaxed approach to content moderation — including by not issuing lifetime bans — is more in line with the vision Republicans have been urging platforms to take.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, tweeted, “Free speech. Liberal tears.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who has had her personal account banned from the platform for posting COVID-19 misinformation, wrote “FREEDOM OF SPEECH!!!!”

Moves to ease moderation pose a threat of increasing the spread of hate speech and misinformation, however, according to experts and advocacy groups that warned against Musk’s takeover of Twitter. 

Ahead of sealing the deal officially, Musk seemingly tried to quell some of those concerns as they relate to potential drops in advertising revenue, posting a public message to advertisers on Thursday. 

He said Twitter “cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences!”

Advocacy groups, however, are still sounding the alarm that the changes Musk has started making to the platform could lead to more hate online, especially for marginalized communities. Racist and antisemitic tweets already started to spread quickly on Twitter after Musk’s takeover, including some using slurs in posts celebrating Musk’s ownership, The Washington Post reported.

“By purchasing Twitter, Elon Musk is poised to reopen the floodgates of widespread harassment and threats of violence, especially against Black women, women of color, and transgender people,” Bridget Todd, communications director of the feminist group UltraViolet, said in a statement. 

If Musk abandons Twitter’s community standards, it could provide a “slippery slope” and set a precedent for other platforms to follow, Todd said. 

A potential increase in the spread of misinformation, especially if figures previously banned for such action regain access to their accounts — on Twitter or other sites that may follow its lead — could also impact coming election cycles, critics warn.

“With Elon Musk at the helm of Twitter just two weeks from the midterm elections, it’s likely the worst is yet to come,” Todd added.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post