laws, security, ethics… Elon Musk up against the wall

Twitter does not have the human and financial resources of its neighbors Meta and Google, but must manage similar issues, from content moderation to cybersecurity and compliance with different laws depending on the country. But Elon Musk has fired management and plans to lay off some 75% of Twitter’s 7,500 employees, according to the Washington Post. More than 700 people have already left this summer, of their own free will, according to an employee who wished to remain anonymous.

The platform “has an endless number of security and safety issues,” remarks Rebekah Tromble, a professor at George Washington University. “My worst fear at this stage is a massive layoff plan or mass resignations. This would largely regress an already flawed system.”

Twitter had “only” 238 million active daily users at the end of June, a fraction of the attendance of Facebook or YouTube, but the diligence of political decision-makers and other media personalities regularly places it at the heart of controversy.

A more tempered approach to freedom of expression

The social network is criticized as sharply by the American right, which considers itself censored, as by the left and many NGOs which advocate a firmer fight against abuse. Currently, Twitter applies penalties ranging from warnings, removal of tweets and account suspension for offenses such as false information on the Covid-19, a racist message or incitement to violence.

“It’s not 100% effective. And when hate or harassment slips through the cracks, it translates into real-life harm,” says Rebekah Tromble.

Elon Musk already seems to have tempered his absolutist approach to freedom of expression, to reassure advertisers, who are generally concerned not to associate their brand with non-consensual content. The new boss promised that Twitter would not become “hellish” and that he would provide the platform with a “content moderation board” to make decisions. “Twitter has had such a committee in the past, like other social networks. It never leads to much, ”judges Rebekah Trumble.

Tech companies have also developed sophisticated algorithms to filter out problematic content, “but in practice moderation is done by hand by tens of thousands of underpaid people,” she adds. On Friday, Elon Musk seemed determined to provide after-sales service himself. “Those who have been suspended for minor or questionable reasons will be released from Twitter prison,” he replied, for example, to a user who asked him to let his father return to the platform.

An ever more complicated moderation

The multi-billionaire will come under pressure from his fans, but also from the many governments who question the powers of social networks. “Its room for maneuver will be reduced by the new rules adopted in Europe and India”, judge Emma Llanso of the NGO Center for Democracy and Technology. The United States has long been more lax, but some conservative states now also want to regulate moderation. “Musk will find himself in a difficult position if the law passed in Texas imposes to keep certain content that Europe obliges to withdraw”, summarizes the specialist.

“Are you excited for the Chinese government to find ways to threaten Tesla’s business in China because of content that appears on Twitter? Because it will happen,” Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief of The Verge, wrote on Friday in an editorial addressed to the entrepreneur.

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