Cesspool or civility? Elon Musk’s Twitter at a Crossroads

By PA IST (Released)

In the chaos that has enveloped Twitter the platform — and Twitter the company — since Elon Musk took over, it’s become clear that isn’t going to change any time soon. In fact, it is likely to get worse before it gets better, or even get better at all.

The talk has never been so courteous on Twitter. Louder vocals often drowned out softer, more nuanced takes. After all, it’s much easier to tweet in rage at a perceived enemy than to seek common ground, whether the argument is about transgender kids or baseball.

In the chaos that has enveloped Twitter the platform — and Twitter the company — since Elon Musk took over, it’s become clear that isn’t going to change any time soon. In fact, it is likely to get worse before it gets better, or even get better at all.

Musk, along with his band of tech industry devotees, arrived on Twitter just over a week ago, ready to tear down the bluebird’s nest and rebuild it in his vision at breakneck speed. He quickly fired senior executives and the board, installed himself as sole director of the company (for now), and declared himself “Chief Twit”, then “Twitter Complaint Hotline Operator” on his biography.

He began mass layoffs at the San Francisco-based company on Friday, firing about half of its employees by email to bring it back to staffing levels not seen since 2014.

All the while, he continued to tweet a mix of rude memes, half-jokes, SpaceX rocket launches and maybe no Twitter plans that he seems to be working on the site in real time. After he floated the idea of ​​charging users $20 a month for the “blue check” and some extra features, for example, he seemed to quickly cut it back in a Twitter exchange with author Stephen King, who posted: “If instituted, I’m gone like Enron.

“We have to pay the bills one way or another! Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers. How about $8? Musk replied. On Saturday, the company announced a subscription service for $7.99 a month that lets anyone on Twitter pay a checkmark fee “just like the celebrities, businesses, and politicians you already follow.” as well as some premium features – not yet available – like having their tweets appear above those from accounts without a blue check.

The billionaire Tesla CEO has also repeatedly spoken to right-wing figures calling for looser restrictions on hate and misinformation, received congratulations from Dmitry Medvedev, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top associate, and tweeted — then deleted — a baseless conspiracy theory about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband. , who was assaulted at his home.

More than three dozen advocacy organizations have written an open letter to Twitter’s top 20 advertisers, calling on them to pledge to stop advertising on the platform if Twitter under Musk undermines ‘brand safety’ and undermines content moderation.

“Extremists not only celebrate Musk’s takeover of Twitter, they see it as yet another opportunity to post the most abusive, harassing and racist language and imagery. This includes clear threats of violence against people they interact with. disagree,” the letter reads.

One of Musk’s first moves was to fire the woman in charge of trust and security on the platform, Vijaya Gadde. But he kept Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of security and integrity, and took steps to reassure users and advertisers that the site won’t turn into a “free-for-all hellscape.” all” as some fear.

On Friday, he tweeted that “Twitter’s strong commitment to content moderation remains absolutely unchanged. In fact, we’ve actually seen hate speech at times this week fall (asterisk) below (asterisk) our prior standards, unlike From what you may read in the press, however, a growing number of advertisers are suspending spending on Twitter as they re-evaluate how Musk’s changes could increase objectionable content on the platform.

Musk also met with civil rights leaders “about how Twitter will continue to address hate and harassment and enforce its election integrity policies,” according to a tweet he sent on Nov. 1.

But representatives of the LGBTQ community were notably absent from the meeting, even though its members are much more likely to be victims of violent crime than those who are not part of these communities. Twitter did not respond to a post about whether Musk plans to meet with LGBTQ groups.

The mercurial billionaire said he won’t make major decisions about content or restoring banned accounts – like former President Donald Trump’s – before setting up a ‘content moderation board’ with points of diverse views. The council, he later added, would include “the civil rights community and groups facing hate-fueled violence.” But experts pointed out that Twitter already has a trust and safety advisory board to answer moderation questions.

“Really, I can’t imagine how it would be any different,” said Danielle Citron, a University of Virginia law professor who has served on the board and worked with Twitter since its 2009 debut to fight online harm. such as threats and harassment. “Our council has the full range of views on free speech.”

A certain amount of chaos is expected after a corporate takeover, as are layoffs and layoffs. But Musk’s dark plans for Twitter — particularly its policies on content moderation, misinformation and hate speech — are ringing alarm bells over the direction one of the world’s most high-profile news ecosystems is headed. All that seems certain is that for now, at least, as Elon Musk says, the same is true for Twitter.

“I hope responsibility and maturity win out,” said Eddie Perez, a former Twitter civic integrity team leader who left the company before Musk took over. “It’s one thing to be a billionaire troll on Twitter and try to get laughs with memes and howls. You’re now the owner of Twitter and there’s a new level of accountability.

For now, however, memes seem to be winning. It’s about pundits like Perez, who worry that Musk is moving too fast without listening to the people who have worked to improve civility on the platform and instead using his own island experience as one of the most popular users of the platform with millions of fanatical fans who greet her 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 ours, and they’re trying to create chaos and they’re directly courting favors” with Musk, Perez said.

“There just isn’t a world in which all of this is normal,” he added. “That should absolutely concern us.”

Twitter didn’t start out as a cesspool. And even now, there are pockets of funny, weird, cheesy subgroups on the platform that remain somewhat isolated from the messy, confrontational place it can seem to be if one follows too many agitators. impetuous. But as with Facebook, the rise of Twitter has also coincided with growing polarization and a measurable decline in online civility in the United States and beyond.

“The big understanding that happened between 2008 and 2012 is that the way to get traction, the way to get attention on all social media, including Twitter, was to use inflammatory language – to challenge the fundamental humanity of the opposition,” said Lee Rainie. , director of internet and technology research at the Pew Research Center.

Things continued to evolve as the 2016 US presidential election approached and passed, and the new president cemented his reputation as one of Twitter’s most incendiary users. After it was revealed that Russia was using social media platforms to try to influence elections in the United States and other countries, the platforms found themselves at the center of political debate.

“Do they have too much power? Do their content moderation policies favor one side or another? Rainie said. “Companies themselves have found themselves at the heart of the culture’s most intense disputes. And so that’s the environment that Elon Musk is entering now.

And beyond the bluster and overblown personality, Musk’s own description of his new job – “Twitter Complaint Hotline Operator” – may prove to be his biggest challenge yet.


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