Elon Musk faces the headache of Twitter moderation

Posted Oct 29, 2022, 8:37 AM

On Friday, Elon Musk woke up as the owner of Twitter. For the billionaire, the troubles are just beginning. How to regulate the platform? Shortly before concluding the acquisition, the entrepreneur wanted to reassure advertisers. “Twitter obviously can’t be a hellish place open to everyone, where anything can be said without consequence,” he wrote in a tweet on Wednesday.

The social network derives the vast majority of its revenue from online advertising. Advertisers may be tempted to leave the platform if it is cluttered with extremist content.

For the moment, the billionaire is alone at the controls, or almost. One of the first decisions of the boss of Tesla and SpaceX was to fire several leaders of the social network: the CEO, Parag Agrawal, but also the chief financial officer and the director of legal affairs and security. On the company’s website, the page that presented the management team has disappeared.

Racist insults

The task will not be easy for the billionaire. Twitter has worked for years to remove the most toxic content and to temporarily or permanently ban repeat offenders. But the words of Elon Musk, who repeated that he wanted to buy the social network to restore freedom of expression, seem to have encouraged the worst far-right trolls.

One of them posted a tweet repeating a racist slur in capital letters dozens of times. His post was retweeted more than 500 times and received more than 4,000 likes, according to the Washington Post. Others posted montages glorifying Nazi Germany, including some with Elon Musk photoshopped over a photo of Hitler.

Other accounts, which had been kicked off the platform for their abusive behavior, attempted a comeback. This is the case, for example, of Stew Peters, an American conspiratorialist evolving within the alt-right. He created a new account and wrote “I’m baaaaack” (“I’m back”), in capital letters, before being suspended again.

A new committee?

Elon Musk seems to be aware of the problem. “Twitter will form a content moderation council with a wide range of views,” the billionaire wrote on the platform on Friday. “No major decisions on content or return of suspended accounts will take place before this council meets. »

A few hours later, the billionaire clarified: “To be very clear, we have not yet changed Twitter’s moderation policy. This did not prevent the new boss, who called himself “chief twit”, from trolling journalists. Several of them published articles on Friday containing false information, after interviewing pranksters who posed as employees fired by Elon Musk.

In the immediate future, the billionaire is mainly looking to save time. Ultimately, this moderation council could allow him to discharge some of his responsibilities. It is inspired in this by the oversight board, the supervisory board set up by Facebook in 2018. Twitter already has a board made up of independent experts, called the “Trust and Security Council”. Elon Musk did not specify whether the latter will remain in place or not.

Internal chaos

Pending the arrival of a new management team, chaos seemed to reign at Twitter on Friday. According to information from the specialized newsletter Platformer, engineers of the social network received a strange request from their new boss: Elon Musk asked them to print the code they had written during the last month or two. The billionaire reportedly intended to walk through the code himself.

A few hours later, a counter order came: “Stop printing. Be prepared to show your code from the last thirty to sixty days on your computer. If you have already printed, put the pages in question in the shredder. »

Ambitious but vague projects

For the moment, Elon Musk has given little indication of the new direction he wants to give to the company. He expressed his desire to restore freedom of expression, which he considers threatened on the platform. And he pledged, in front of investors, to multiply Twitter’s revenue by five by 2028, without really specifying the route to get there.

The billionaire wants in particular to reduce the network’s dependence on advertising, by developing revenue linked to subscriptions, according to a presentation consulted by the “New York Times”. He would consider using Twitter to create a super-application, on the model of Chinese WeChat which includes financial services. Finally, the boss of Tesla and SpaceX has set himself the goal of increasing the number of Twitter users from 238 million today to nearly one billion in 2028.

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