Twitter led the content moderation. What will come next?

In 2015, A man wearing a skull mask posted a video He explains his plans to kill Brianna Wu. The skull video was just one of many disturbing and bizarre posts targeting Wu and other women online as part of a harassment campaign dubbed Gamergate.

Wu said this was in the early days of moderating content in a social media ecosystem with far fewer rules, but nonetheless, Twitter moved quickly to remove the video, which prevented it from spreading. Although Gamergate has made clear how inept the social media platforms have been in protecting their users, Twitter’s immediate action was an early example of the company’s relative willingness to stand up to criticism and work to curb abuse, Wu said.

Although social media platforms struggle to respond to misinformation, hate speech, election interference, and incitement to violence, over the years Twitter has taken a more nuanced and inclusive approach, developing, reviewing and expanding a broad policy framework.

For example, Twitter has led efforts to create security policies and enforce high-profile violations of its rules. It permanently suspended right-wing agitator Milo Yiannopoulos in July 2016 and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in September 2018. Facebook didn’t ban Yiannopoulos and Jones until May 2019.

In the summer of 2020, Twitter slapped a warning label on then-President Trump’s tweet threatening a harsh crackdown on protests in Minneapolis as violating its rules on “glorifying violence,” and soon after flagged two more election-related tweets to check the facts. The move distinguished Twitter from Facebook, as its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, indicated that it was not inclined to take similar measures, and paved the way for a large number of social media companies that subsequently suspended Trump from their platforms days before the end of his term.

This year, Facebook announced a 24-hour suspension of Representative Marjorie Taylor Green (Rep.-J.) account a day after Twitter permanently banned Greene for repeatedly spreading misinformation about COVID-19.

But Elon Musk’s successful bid to buy Twitter could change the course of the company. Musk, who has said he embraces a free-speech tyranny, has made clear he wants a platform with less application, writing in a series of tweets on Tuesday that he favors moderation only when legally required.

I am against censorship that goes beyond the law. If people want less freedom of expression, they will ask the government to pass laws for this. Therefore, transgressing the law goes against the will of the people,” Musk said on Twitter.

“Twitter has historically served as one of the most forward-thinking social media platforms that has always tested new ideas and concepts,” said Jennifer Edwards, executive director of the Texas Institute for Social Media Research at Tarleton State University.

Musk’s purchase of the company and the axis towards Let it be She said that the spirit of moderation he favors may prompt other social media platforms to back off as well and loosen standards of moderation.

The Twitter dynamic driving the group could also flow in the opposite direction under Musk, as the new Twitter owner takes cues from his veteran Facebook counterpart. For example, Musk has already said he wants to start “authenticating all humans” on Twitter — a move that, although vague, could make his platform more compatible with Zuckerberg’s, where users are expected to post under whatever name they “go through.” him in daily life.

Musk’s suggestions that he might follow suit have already drawn criticism.

Several leaders of the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote in response: “Any free speech advocate (as Musk appears to see himself) would likely be willing to require users to provide identification cards for access to a platform unaware of the critical importance of an alias and anonymity. identity”. For news of the purchase of Musk. The statement said that policies requiring real names on Facebook were used to expel unstable communities such as transgender people, queens and sex workers.

Sophie Zhang, a former data scientist at Facebook, said many users understandably distrust social media, unwilling to identify and leak. She said that in South Korea, real-name authentication databases were repeatedly hacked because they formed a treasure trove of personal information.

“Absolute freedom of speech is a good idea,” Chang said, but the vast majority of moderation in content is not a contentious political debate that Musk supposes, and so these values ​​do not necessarily work in practice.

Zhang said it’s too early to tell how Musk’s influence will affect editing content on the platform. The platform’s challenges may force him and other advocates of free speech absolutism to consider why it can’t allow speech to flow without infringement while at the same time preventing the platform from becoming a quagmire of cryptic spam, pornography and fake advertising.

“The real question for me is how does Elon make those decisions once he’s actually in charge,” she said.

Christopher Bell, a professor at Duke University and director of the on-campus polarization lab that studies political extremism using social media data, said the foundations of some of Musk’s proposals are flawed. Musk insists conservative voices are being reduced, and while high-profile issues such as Trump’s account suspension can be cited as examples of anti-conservative bias, studies show the platform It actually tends to reinforce conservative viewsBale said.

Musk said accounts should almost never be banned, but he also promised to crack down on spammers — presumably identifying them by the content of their speech and taking action to ban accounts.

“I think where the rubber hits the road, it’s going to be more difficult than he realizes to do what he wants,” Bale said.

Researchers and activists worry that Musk’s focus on unrestricted speech will erode the tools that Twitter’s trust and safety team has built over the years. Experts said that by giving himself ways besides deactivating and then removing the account, he has made his rules considerably more enforceable. The company practiced greater transparency than its peers, maintained open lines of communication with researchers, and made the large body of data about spam and disinformation on the platform public and available for analysis by academics and others.

Twitter maintains an archive of posts removed from the platform, allowing researchers to examine the extent and impact of viral disinformation. Birdwatch initiative on Twitter It aims to create a crowdsourcing approach to reporting misinformation.

Wu said that during the height of the harassment she faced during Gamergate, Twitter’s vice president of trust and security reached out to listen to concerns and offer support. In the following years, Twitter separated itself from the pack by making real efforts to deal with critics like her.

“They’ve done more than Facebook has done, more than Reddit, more than Google,” said Wu, who said she has informally advised the company’s trust and security team for nearly five years. “Twitter has never gotten the credit it deserves for aggressively addressing harassment.”

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