Twitter insiders fear Elon Musk portends troll takeover

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on twitter At the company’s meeting on Monday to decide whether to accept Elon Musk’s $44 billion acquisition offer, CEO Parag Agrawal avoided speculation about how its new owner might change the platform. For one employee observing, Public comments Mask has already clarified the likely consequences: Twitter seemed poised to loosen content moderation, making it a less welcoming place for both users and advertisers.

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“There is an insane amount of abuse going on on the platform against people of color and gays, as well as literal Nazis, and we need to block them,” says an employee who works on Twitter’s business development team. “If you lift the restrictions and let Twitter fill with hate speech, people won’t want to go there anymore.”

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Concerns that Twitter is on the cusp of a new era marked by a significant surge in abuse and harassment are shared by other company insiders, investors and advisors to Twitter’s moderation policy groups. They say it flows naturally from Musk’s stated goal of allowing a wider range of speech on the platform, not to mention the militant example he sets with his own tweets.

“The trolls are empowered,” another Twitter employee told WIRED, predicting that while the company survives, the service may soon serve a much smaller community because it is becoming hostile to many of the people who currently use Twitter. Research indicates that online abuse already falls disproportionately on marginalized groups, suggesting that any increase in Twitter toxicity is likely to happen as well. “The social media version of splinternet worries me,” the employee says. “The world will be worse off without Twitter as a dysfunctional but well-meaning place.”

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On Tuesday, Musk used his Twitter account to single out one of the company’s top lawyers, Vijay Gadde, by joining a thread criticizing her work protecting the platform. She immediately received a torrent of abuse from Musk fans on Twitter, prompting public complaints from some Twitter staff and former CEO of the company Dick Costolo. Researchers monitoring right-wing extremists reported this week that individuals and groups previously blocked from Twitter are already attempt to return to the platform. Twitter and Musk did not respond to requests for comment.

In 2011, the then CEO Costolo described Twitter as the “Free Speech Wing of the Free Speech Party” after UK officials suggested the tweets may have contributed to the riots in London. Since then, Twitter, like other social networks, has stepped up its moderation as recognition of the potential harms of online harassment and lies grows. During the 2020 US presidential election campaign. Twitter blocked users from sharing a New York Post an article about the son of then-presidential candidate Joe Biden that said it was based on emails that may have been improperly obtained. After the attack on the US Capitol last year, the company shut down president trump accountciting “the risk of further incitement to violence”.

Musk’s ownership of Twitter could be the start of a unique experiment in broadly loosening control over user behavior. “The history of content moderation has generally been one-way so far, and platforms have very rarely gone backwards,” says Evelyn Dweck, a researcher at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. Musk wrote on Tuesday that he considered the removal of speech that was not illegal “against the will of the people”, suggesting that people in the US might be allowed to tweet more or less anything.

John Bell, designer, formerly worked on Twitter’s anti-abuse team, says that easing Twitter’s moderation would be a mistake. Outsiders, including Bell before he joined the company, often don’t realize how much work it takes to keep a site from flooding with toxic content, he says. While Twitter has been criticized for not doing enough to curb abuse and harassment, it has developed tools and processes that significantly reduce volume, Bell says. “Everything Musk talks about will ruin that.”

In 2016, Twitter created council of independent organizations give advice on online safety. Alex Holmes, deputy CEO of Diana Award, a British non-profit organization that sits on the board, says he is now unsure how this work can continue. “There are understandably concerns about how this would be possible if free speech were a detrimental priority,” he says. Holmes says he’s heard similar concerns from Twitter employees.

Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO and President of GLAAD, a non-profit organization that promotes LGBTQ rights and also sits on the advisory board of Twitter, wrote on Monday that Musk’s ownership made her “nervous about the online safety of the LGBT community.”

It would be “stupid” to think that Musk would stand up for women and others targeted by the platform, says Brianna Wu, a game developer and software engineer who was in contact with Twitter’s trust and safety team until 2020 after during the campaign was insulted. online harassment campaign known as Gamergate in 2014. “He’s the billionaire version of the alt-right troll.”

After Twitter took action against her trolls, Wu continued to document harassment on the platform, especially against women and members of marginalized communities, to share on Twitter.

Wu said she never had the feeling that Twitter’s trust and safety team was making politically motivated decisions. charged on the platform some of his critics. “They had a version of their product that was bad for users, and they were in good faith trying to figure out how to make it better,” Wu says.

By privatizing the company, Musk will also eliminate the liability that the board and shareholders can hold on a public company. Activist investors have previously filed resolutions to try to push Twitter and other social networks towards goals such as stricter moderation policies and greener operations.

Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow, a nonprofit organization that represents a group of Twitter shareholder activists, says Twitter under Musk is likely to be very similar to Meta (formerly Facebook) under Mark Zuckerberg.

“You have one responsible person. Mark Zuckerberg makes all the decisions. No matter what resolution you submit, he has a 10-to-1 vote advantage,” says Behar. “There is a big danger when all this power is concentrated in one person like Zuckerberg. Now we have it with Twitter.”

Natasha Lamb, managing partner of Arjuna Capital, a small investment company that owns shares in Twitter, says she worries that even if Musk owns Twitter, he won’t be able to fully own it. “Twitter is too important to be a hobby,” she says.

Lamb said Arjuna was unlikely to vote for the purchase. “I think he is a brilliant engineer,” she says. “I’m not sure he’s a civil rights expert. I don’t think he’s an expert on free speech.”

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