After turning Twitter upside down, Elon Musk ventured further into the slippery slope of content moderation, a key issue for the future of the influential platform under pressure after the departure of advertisers and senior officials .
The owner and boss of the social network for three weeks had several suspended user accounts reinstated on Friday, stating immediately that he had “not yet made a decision on (Donald) Trump”.
He then launched a poll on the possible return of the former American president, banned from major social platforms after the assault on Capitol Hill in January 2021.
The boss of Tesla, who defends an absolute vision of freedom of expression, is expected at the turn on this subject and on the moderation of content in general.
“The politics of the new Twitter is freedom of speech, but not freedom to reach” the public, he said on Friday.
“Negative or hateful tweets will be demoted and demonetized, so there will be no back-to-back ads or other revenue for Twitter. You won’t find these tweets unless you search for them specifically, which is no different from rest of the internet,” he added.
The vision of the libertarian entrepreneur for the platform at the heart of the political and social life of many countries worries many associations, authorities and advertisers. They fear that Elon Musk will remove existing safeguards, fragile as they are, against misinformation, harassment and other abuses.
His tweets on Friday refer to YouTube’s strategy, where content close to the limits set by the regulations is less likely to appear in priority, without disappearing completely.
– “Chief content moderator” –
Ella Irwin, its new head of site safety, shared the CEO’s clarifications as “essential principles for Twitter”, “that will help us keep the platform healthy”.
Not sure, however, that this is enough to reassure the brands that have already left, such as General Motors or Pfizer.
Because Elon Musk multiplies both promises (such as the future creation of a content moderation council) and provocations. He even threatened to call for a “thermonuclear” boycott of dissident advertisers.
At Twitter, several engineers have been fired since Monday after questioning the new boss, on the platform or on the company’s internal messaging system.
“He’s now chief content moderator, busy patrolling anything he doesn’t like,” said Sarah Roberts, a social media professor at UCLA University.
On Friday, as if to prove his neutrality, Elon Musk restored accounts from opposing political sides.
Comedian Kathy Griffin was reinstated. She had two million subscribers before being suspended last week after she, like other internet users, changed her username to “Elon Musk” to mock the boss.
“Twitter accounts that impersonate someone else, without clearly specifying that it is a parody, will be permanently suspended,” Elon Musk said.
“The Babylon Bee”, an American satirical site, and Jordan Peterson, a conservative media personality, also celebrated their return. They had been suspended in March and August for hate speech violations — both made fun of transgender figures.
– “The internet of Apple and Google” –
Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former chief security officer, noted in a New York Times op-ed on Friday that Donald Trump’s return to the site was a “virtual certainty.”
Last week, Yoel Roth was still defending the decisions of the multi-billionaire, arguing for example that the content moderation teams had largely been spared during the dismissal of half of the group’s employees.
He then resigned in rejection of the methods of Elon Musk, who “define the rules of Twitter with unilateral decrees”, he explained.
He warned that the chief executive had failed at all to “convince advertisers”, a major problem for Twitter’s business model.
Even if he diversifies the sources of income, Elon Musk will have difficulty implementing his vision of freedom of expression in the face of American, European and Indian regulators, ready to fight if the platform does not respect their laws.
But above all, notes Yoel Roth, Elon Musk underestimates the power of Apple and Google, which control the two main mobile operating systems in the world, iOS and Android.
The two giants can ban any application that does not respect their rules on content, which are often quite vague, with “catastrophic” consequences for said application, detailed the former manager.
“Twitter is going to have to balance the goals of the new owner with the real-world realities of life on the internet from Apple and Google,” he said.