Amid Twitter chaos, Musk reveals new insight into hateful content

After turning Twitter on its head, Elon Musk on Tuesday tried to clarify his plans for content moderation, a key issue for the influencer’s platform’s future after the departure of advertisers and top executives.

Musk said on Friday that he had reinstated some of the banned accounts on his site, but added that no decision had been made about welcoming former US President Donald Trump back.

Twitter observers are watching closely to see if Musk will reinstate Trump, who was banned for inciting last year’s attack on the Capitol by a crowd seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The reinstatement of accounts that were suspended for violating Twitter’s content moderation rules is seen as pioneering the field that Musk, who describes himself as a “freedom of speech,” wants to take over the site.

In the same flurry of tweets, Musk unveiled a new way to deal with hateful or “negative” content in the future, which appeared to seek to balance unadulterated freedom of speech with a form of censorship on the site.

Finding a solution to content moderation became especially urgent after Musk’s major return to the site — expanding the paid subscription service — sparked an embarrassing wave of fake accounts that sent advertisers into action.

“Twitter’s new policy is freedom of expression, but not freedom of access,” Musk wrote on Twitter on Friday.

“Extremely negative/hate tweets will be unposted and neutralized, so there are no ads or other revenue on Twitter,” he wrote.

– ‘Basic principle’ –

In essence, Musk appears to be referring to a policy similar to strategies at YouTube, the Google-owned video platform, in which some provocative content is given lower priority in the site’s algorithm, but not removed entirely.

“You won’t find the tweet unless you specifically search for it, which is no different than the rest of the internet,” Musk said.

Newly appointed Head of Trust and Safety Ella Gerwin described Musk’s approach as “a core principle of Twitter… that helps us ensure we maintain a healthy platform.”

To make his point, Musk then announced the reinstatement of three Twitter accounts that had been banned for violating Twitter’s content moderation policies.

Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson was suspended from Twitter in June, prior to Musk’s ownership, after a post about transgender actor Elliott Page violating the site’s rules on hateful behavior.

Peterson has often made comments against transgender rights and asked Twitter to remove the post on the page.

The Babylon Bee, a conservative parody site, was banned in March over similar tweets against Rachel Levin, a transgender woman who works as an assistant to the US Secretary of Health.

The third account, that of comedian Kathy Griffin, was banned earlier this month when Musk cracked down on accounts impersonating others.

Griffin, who has two million followers on Twitter, changed her username to Elon Musk, taking advantage of the site’s convenient moderation under the billionaire’s watch.

– ‘Catastrophic’ –

In a New York Times op-ed, Twitter’s former content chief Yoel Roth said it was “almost certain” that Trump would return to the site.

Expanding at length on why he left Twitter last week after seven years, Roth said Musk was facing a major challenge in realizing his vision of free speech.

Roth warned his former boss that advertisers, whom he “doesn’t control and won’t win over,” would pose a clear threat to his revenue stream if they were dismayed by the site’s direction.

And even if it finds another way to make money, regulators in the US, Europe and India have also been wary, threatening Twitter with heavy fines or government intervention if the platform fails to abide by the rules.

But most of all, Roth said, it’s the app stores run by Apple and Google’s Android that will have the biggest impact on Twitter’s future.

“Failure to adhere to Apple’s and Google’s guidelines would be disastrous,” Roth warned.

Their vague rules on content could lead to users being cut off from Twitter’s mobile app immediately, under the dictates of rival Big Tech companies.

“Twitter will have to balance the goals of its new owner with the practical realities of online life from Apple and Google,” said Roth.

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