Inside Twitter, Fears That Musk’s Views Will Revisit Past Troubles

Elon Musk planned to buy Twitter and undo its content moderation policies. On Tuesday, a day after reaching a 44 billion deal to buy the company, Mr. Musk was already at work on his agenda. He tweeted that past mediation decisions by Twitter’s top lawyer were “apparently unreliable.” Later, he shared a meme mocking the lawyer, triggering an influx of attacks from other Twitter users.

Mr. Musk’s personal criticism was a rough reminder of what employees face when it comes to creating and enforcing Twitter’s complex content moderation policies. His vision for the company will take it to where it started, employees said, and force Twitter to revive the last decade.

The Twitter executives who made the rules said they once had opinions about an online speech that Mr. Musk. He believed that Twitter’s policies should be limited to imitating local laws. But with more than a decade of violence, harassment and election manipulation, his thinking has changed. Now, many executives at Twitter and other social media companies see their content moderation policies as a necessary security to protect speech.

The question is whether Mr. Musk will also change his mind when confronted with the darkest corners of Twitter.

“You said you wanted more ‘free speech’ and less moderation on Twitter. What does this mean in practice? “Twitter staff wrote in an internal list of questions that they saw Mr. Musk, who was spotted by the New York Times.

Another question was asked: “Some people interpret your arguments in defense of free speech as a desire to open the door to harassment. Is that true And if not, do you have any ideas on how to promote free speech and keep the door closed on harassment? “

Mr. Musk is reckless with warnings that his plans are misleading. “The extreme antibody reaction of those who are afraid of free speech says it all,” he tweeted on Tuesday.

He criticized the work of two of Twitter’s top lawyers, Vijaya Gadde and Jim Baker. Ms. Gaddafi has led Twitter’s policy teams for more than a decade, often handling complex arbitration decisions, including Donald J. That includes the decision to cut Trump closer to the end of his term as president. Former FBI General Counsel Shri. Baker joined Twitter in 2020.

Twitter chief executive Parag Agarwal did not respond directly to the criticism, but in a tweet he wrote, “We are proud of our people who continue to work with focus and urgency despite the noise.”

Employees of Twitter and other social media companies said that Mr. Musk seemed to understand little about Twitter’s approach to content moderation and the problems that led to its rules – or he just didn’t care. Some of the suggestions he gave, such as the labeling of automated accounts, Mr. Musk began his speech.

“It basically buys a position as a rule maker and speech mediator,” said David Kaye, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine who worked with the United Nations on speech issues. “It’s really full for everyone who’s in that position.”

In its early years as a small start-up, Twitter was governed by a philosophy: Tweets must flowWhich means Twitter did little to control the conversation on its platform.

The founders of Twitter took their cues from Blogger, a publishing platform owned by Google, many of which helped create. They believed any offensive content would be countered or drowned by other users, said three employees working on Twitter at the time.

“You have a certain amount of idealistic zeal: ‘If people just accept it as a platform for self-expression, wonderful things will happen,'” said Jason Goldman, who was on Twitter’s founding team and served on its board of directors. . “That mission is valuable, but it blinds you to the idea that some of the bad things that happen are errors rather than equal weight uses of the platform.”

The company usually removes content only if it contains spam, or violates U.S. laws prohibiting child abuse and other criminal acts.

In 2008, Twitter hired its 25th employee, Dale Harvey, and the first person to take up the challenge of moderating content full-time. The Arab Spring protests began in 2010, and became a megaphone for Twitter activists, strengthening the belief of many employees that a good speech would win online. But Twitter’s power as a tool of harassment became apparent in 2014 when it became the focus of Gamergate, a mass harassment campaign that flooded the video game industry with death and rape threats against women.

“If there are no rules against abuse and harassment, some people risk being intimidated into keeping quiet, and then you don’t get the benefit of their voice, their perspective, their free expression,” said Colin Crowell, former head of Twitter. Global public policy, which left the company in 2019.

In response, Twitter began expanding its policies. But new dangers emerged. In September 2016, a Russian troll farm quietly created 2,700 fake Twitter profiles and used them. Trump and Hillary Clinton.

The profile remained vague for months, while complaints of harassment continued. In 2017, Jack Dorsey, then chief executive, announced that policy implementation would be the company’s top priority. Later that year, women boycotted Twitter during the #MeToo movement, and Mr. Dorsey acknowledged that the company was “still not doing enough.”

It released a list of content that the company would no longer tolerate: nude photos shared without the consent of the person pictured, hate symbols and tweets glorifying violence.

In 2018, Twitter banned several accounts linked to the hack-and-leak operation that included Mrs. Clinton’s campaign emails, and she began suspending right-wing individuals such as Alex Jones from her service because they repeatedly violated policies.

The following year, Twitter unveiled new policies aimed at preventing the spread of misinformation in future elections, banning tweets that could disqualify people from voting or mislead them about how to do so. Mr. Dorsey banned all forms of political advertising, but often made difficult arbitration decisions. Mattress.

Twitter has also developed a strategy that would allow it to have more tweets: instead of removing them, it added labels to tweets that contained false information about the election and limited their ability to spread quickly across the platform.

In the run-up to the 2020 US presidential election, Twitter banned fraudulent videos known as “deepfaxes” and barred users from sharing content obtained through hacking campaigns.

When The New York Post reported Joseph R. The policy was tested when Biden Jr.’s son published an article containing an email allegedly obtained from Hunter’s laptop. Fearing the content came from a hack-and-leak operation, Twitter blocked the article from being shared on its platform.

Mr. Dorsey publicly disagreed with the decision. Days later, Ms. Gade announced that the policy had been changed and that the Twitter post would allow the article to appear in tweets.

The episode has become a lynching pin in conservative criticisms of Twitter, and Mr. Criticism of Ms. Musk on the mattress.

Mr. Musk said he wanted to return to Twitter in its early days, when only illegal content was removed. “I am against censorship which goes beyond the law,” he said. Musk tweeted Tuesday.

Mr. Musk’s plans could also face legal problems in Europe. On Saturday, European policymakers reached an agreement on a landmark law known as the Digital Services Act, in which social media platforms such as Twitter require the police to use their services more aggressively for hate speech, misinformation and illegal content.

The new law would require Twitter and other social media companies, which have more than 45 million users in the European Union, to conduct annual risk assessments about the spread of harmful content on their platforms and outline plans to address the problem. If they are not found to be performing adequately, companies could be fined up to 6 percent of their global revenue or even banned from the European Union for recurring offenses.

Within Twitter, frustration has grown over Mr. Musk’s mediation plans, and some employees are wondering if he will actually stop his work during such a crucial moment, when he is ready to start moderate tweets about the elections in Brazil and the second national election in the United States.

Of Adam Sataria Contribution Report.

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