What is Going on Over at Twitter?

by Adrian Yang

What is Going on Over at Twitter?

Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council Vanished

Remember Gamergate? It was a scandal back in 2014 that was the first time the public heard about an online community of gamers, and how they treated women.It unfolded on Twitter, and was instrumental in bringing safety to moderation of social media. Brianna Wu, a software engineer and game developer was targeted with death and rape threats. Wu, now an advocate for online safety…isn’t a fan of the direction Elon Musk’s Twitter has taken. Like others in the industry, she has noticed changes on the platform, and says that Elon Musk could undo all the platform’s progress in trust and safety- making it unsafe for women and LGBTQ+, as well as others in marginalized communities. This month, Twitter abruptly dissolved its Trust and Safety Council, in just the latest sign that Elon Musk is unraveling years of work and institutions created to make the social network safer and more civil. Tensions have risen so high publicly that Yoel Roth, the former head of Trust and Safety at Twitter has reportedly left his home after Elon Musk criticized him online. Yoel, who resigned from the company in November, has been facing online attacks and threats of violence following the latest update in the exclusive “Twitter Files”.

Ordinarily, social media handles content moderation in a multi-tiered approach. There is a human moderation component, an AI component, and then multiple advisors in an advisory position- to ensure that a diverse number of viewpoints would be heard. This did not just protect individuals-but also created an “invisible hand” effect, in other words, a protective effect.

Future of Twitter Relies on Elon Musk

As of early December, Musk had already fired nearly all of the company’s human content moderators, personally attacked Twitter’s former head of Trust and Safety Yoel Roth, and amplified posts from writers such as Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss pushing the story line that former staff suppressed conservative viewpoints. It should be noted that nearly all of Twitter is under one person’s control now. Elon Musk. And he makes no case for being unbiased. He is openly tweeting Anti-Covid tweets, as well as urging voters to vote Republican.

Originally, Musk announced that he intended to form his own content moderation council and met with civil rights groups to address an apparent spike in hate speech on the platform. But he quickly veered away from that plan, instead granting “general amnesty” to previously banned accounts like former President Donald Trump and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), ending enforcement of Twitter’s Covid-19 misinformation policy and releasing internal documents alleging that “activist” employees deplatformed Trump. Twitter Files has been called PR, and it appears there are very few checks to see how accurate his claim of publishing “everything” is.

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) pushed back on Musk’s tweets about Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, asking Musk not to “mock and promote hate toward already marginalized and at-risk-of-violence members of the #LGBTQ+ community.”, and while his account remained up- other accounts pushing back on the same issues were taken down.

GM Suspends Advertising on Twitter. Who’s Next?

And how is advertising going? Some still have their worries about Musk opening the platform to a flood of online toxicity that’s bad for their brands. General Motors has said it will suspend advertising on Twitter as it monitors the platform under Musk, and others are facing pressure to review their own plans. Recently, more than three dozen advocacy organizations sent an open letter to Twitter’s top 20 advertisers, calling on them to commit to halting advertising on the platform if Twitter under Musk undermines “brand safety” and guts content moderation. Musk openly tweeted that brands are not “free speech activists”-but it’s important to note that advertisers follow consumers lead, and generally shy away from controversy.

Overall, it appears that Musk has plans over the long term, and we are still waiting for the end result-but this is definitely an area of interest-most casual users of Twitter are largely unaware of the role Twitter has played in both journalism, and activism. Journalists use it for speed, and when war broke out in Ukraine, Twitter was used as an organizational tool to rally allies to Ukraine’s side. Twitter has also held a place of undue influence, much like Musk himself, in elections and government. Social media attacks are still often considered conspiracy theories even now, due to the influx of disinformation, and the weaponization of social media has changed the cultural landscape. It remains to be seen whether Musk will turn it into the “public square” he envisions, or just successfully turn it into another 4chan. It’s hard to believe such an influential site could die so quickly, and yet-we are seeing such broad changes in the platform, it’s hard to tell if it will succeed. At the very least, it appears that the “cult of personality” of Elon Musk is carrying it at the moment.

by Adrian Yang Dec 15, 2022