Musk emerges as Twitter’s chief moderator ahead of the midterm

AP Business Writers (AP) – Days after taking over Twitter and a week before the US midterm election, billionaire Elon Musk positioned himself as the chief moderator of one of the most important social media platforms in American politics.

Musk said he will not make major decisions about content or resetting banned accounts before setting up a “content moderation council” with multiple viewpoints. But his own behavior as a prolific tweeter has signaled the opposite.

He is directly engaged with right-wing political figures calling for looser restrictions, including a Republican candidate for Arizona secretary of state who credits Musk with allowing him to start tweeting again after his account was briefly suspended Monday.

Musk even changed his profile to “Twitter Complaints Hotline Operator” – with a photo of himself as a child holding a phone. But it’s next to impossible for anyone outside of Twitter to know which threads it’s pulling or whose accounts have been suspended – the company has stopped responding to media questions, except for the few that Musk tweets to.

Musk’s promised speeches began last week on his first full day as a Twitter owner. A conservative political podcaster shared examples of the platform allegedly favoring liberals and secretly downgrading conservative voices, a common criticism previous Twitter leaders dismissed as inaccurate. “Today I’m going to dig more,” Musk replied.

It continued when the daughter of Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, whose provocative critiques of “politically correct” culture and feminism are cherished by some right-wing activists, appealed to Musk to restore her father’s account after a tweet about it. transgender actor Elliot Page who apparently ran contrary to Twitter’s rules on hateful conduct.

“Anyone suspended for minor and dubious reasons will be released from Twitter prison,” Musk promised. Months earlier, he had said in reference to Peterson that Twitter was “going too far in crushing dissenting opinions.”

One of Musk’s first big moves was an open letter to advertisers – Twitter’s main source of revenue – promising he wouldn’t let Twitter plunge into a “free-for-all hell landscape” as he pursued his plans to promote the. freedom of speech on the platform. And he’s suggesting asking users to pay $ 8 for a coveted verified blue tick as a way to diversify revenue.

The check mark has been criticized as a symbol of elitism on the platform. But its main purpose has been to verify that public accounts, such as politicians, brands and journalists, are who they say they are. It was a tool to prevent impersonation and help stem the flow of disinformation.

But some still have their concerns that Musk is opening the platform to a wave of online toxicity that’s bad for their brands. General Motors said it will suspend advertising on Twitter as it monitors the platform under Musk and others are being pressured to review their plans. On Tuesday, more than three dozen advocacy organizations sent an open letter to Twitter’s top 20 advertisers, asking them to pledge to stop advertising on the platform if Twitter under Musk undermines “brand safety” and courage content moderation.

Over the weekend, the billionaire published – later deleted – an article that contained unsubstantiated rumors about the attack on the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And much of his comments in recent days have been in response to appeals from conservative voices.

In an exchange of messages with the Associated Press, Mark Finchem, the Republican in the running to become Arizona’s secretary of state, said his access to the platform was quickly restored after he contacted Musk via his personal Twitter account. Asked why his account was suspended, Finchem said, “Maybe you should contact Elon Musk. We were banned for an unknown reason, we contacted him and 45 minutes later we were reinstated. “

Finchem, who questions the results of the 2020 presidential election and was at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, drew national attention for his statements on electoral security and his ability to change the electoral rules if he wins the first electoral spot. state next week.

Musk tweeted Monday night that he was “looking into” in response to a complaint about Finchem’s apparent suspension. The complaint came from attorney Jenna Ellis, former President Donald Trump’s campaign legal advisor. About 40 minutes later, Finchem posted a “test” tweet on his account, followed by a longer post thanking Musk for restoring his ability to use the site.

“Thanks @elonmusk for stopping the Communist who suspended me from Twitter a week before the election,” Finchem tweeted. “Twitter is much better with you at the helm.”

Jared Holt, a senior research manager at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, said large social media companies have generally operated at the whim of their owners. But “this problem is particularly evident when someone like Elon Musk takes the reins and establishes himself as the king of the platform, rather than an owner trying to run a coherent business,” Holt said.

At the same time, Musk sent mixed signals about his intentions. Despite the obvious examples of relying on conservative appeals and complaints about Twitter’s policies, there is also plenty of evidence that the platform’s policies on combating disinformation are still in place. Separately, Musk defended Twitter’s head of trust and security, Yoel Roth, after conservative users demanded his firing for past comments voicing liberal views.

Roth stayed at work this week after other senior executives were fired or resigned. And aside from Musk, he appeared to be the primary public voice in Twitter’s content moderation, explaining that the company spent the weekend working to remove a “fit of hateful conduct” following the acquisition of Musk.

“We’ve all done some questionable tweets, me more than most, but I want to be clear that I support Yoel,” Musk tweeted in response to a complaint from another conservative commentator. “My feeling is that he has high integrity and we are all entitled to our political beliefs.”

Some longtime Twitter watchers have expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of Musk’s planned content moderation advice. In part, this is because Twitter already has a trust and security advisory board to deal with moderation questions.

“I really can’t imagine how that would be different,” said Danielle Citron, a University of Virginia law professor who sits on the board and has worked with Twitter since 2009 to address online damage, such as threats and stalking. “Our council has the full spectrum of views on free speech.”

Citron said it is still waiting to know if the board will have its next meeting, scheduled for the day after the midterm.


O’Brien reported from Providence, Rhode Island. AP writer Bob Christie in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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