Musk will restore Twitter accounts banned for harassment, misinformation

Opinion

Elon Musk plans to reinstate nearly all previously banned Twitter accounts amid alarm from activists and online trust and security experts.

After Twitter posted a poll asking, “Should Twitter grant a blanket amnesty to suspended accounts as long as they don’t violate the law or engage in egregious spam?” When 72.4 percent of respondents voted yes, Musk announced that “Amnesty will begin next week.”

Twitter’s CEO did not respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post on Thursday. The poll received more than 3 million votes.

Mass returns of users banned for offenses such as threats of violence, harassment and misrepresentation will have a significant impact on the platform, experts say. Given that Musk’s definition of “serious spam” is unclear, and the difficulty of separating out “offending” users varies by jurisdiction and country, many have questioned how such a resurgence would be handled.

Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law’s Cyberlaw Clinic, said: “Apple and Google should take a hard look at removing Twitter from the App Store.” “What Musk is doing is existentially dangerous for various marginalized communities. It is like opening the gates of hell, because of the disaster it causes. People who engaged in direct harassment can come back and engage in doxxing, harassment, cruelty, incitement to violence, celebration of violence. I can’t tell you how dangerous it will be.”

Musk’s “free speech” agenda is undermining Twitter’s security efforts, insiders say

It’s the second time in a week that Musk has used a Twitter poll to make a major decision about the platform. On Nov. 18, he reinstated former President Donald Trump’s account after 52 percent of survey respondents said he should do so. “Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” Musk wrote, is Latin for “the voice of the people is the voice of God.”

On the same day, he also unilaterally reinstated at least 11 high-profile far-right Twitter accounts, including professor Jordan Peterson, who was banned from Twitter for misogynizing a trans person, and the conservative media company Babylon Bee. He also recovered Project Veritas, which has often been accused of misrepresenting stories, has been banned for “repeated violations of Twitter’s privacy policy” and The personal account of Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, who has been banned since January for violating the platform’s covid-19 disinformation policy and promoting violent and extreme rhetoric.

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According to experts, bots and bad actors can easily falsify the results of Twitter polls, so the decision is irresponsible. “The Twitter poll can be manipulated, there’s nothing scientific or rigorous about what it’s doing,” said Sarah T. Roberts, a UCLA associate professor and faculty member at UCLA’s Center for Critical Internet Studies, previously worked on Twitter research. content moderation processes.

“Before Elon took over,” Roberts added, “there were whole teams of people doing market and user research who followed strict protocols for doing that kind of research.” Suddenly, he’s running Twitter with completely unscientific polls asking unknown people, and certainly not a representative demographic of people.

Many speculated that restoring banned accounts would help create the “free-for-all hellscape” that Musk promised advertisers would not materialize soon after taking over the platform.

“It would be a huge disaster, especially in Africa, where state-sponsored Ghost accounts have been suspended for threatening human rights activists and journalists.” Hopewell Chinono, wrote a journalist in Africa on Twitter. “You, as journalists, would allow our lives to be put in danger!” Blood on your hands @elonmusk.”

About the chaotic reign of Twitter king Drill Musk

Whether or not Musk can do what the Twitter poll is looking for is a matter of debate. He fired the heads of the trust and security team, which typically handles the logistics of relaunching accounts. And distinguishing between “violators” depends on whether Twitter has detailed documentation for each suspension. Without such a legal filter, which depends on state and local laws for every tweet, each account would need to be vetted carefully, given how laws vary by country and region.

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Madeleine Burkholder, a senior technical solutions engineer who has worked on consumer products that manage spam, said Musk’s question made no sense. “Extreme spam is not a technical term,” he said, adding that most postings from large tech companies don’t include questions about local government legal codes. The norm is to consider whether an account has violated the company’s terms of service, which are rules set by the platform, not a government agency.

“It’s going to be very hairy to pull apart those threads and figure out the exact behavior that led to their termination,” Burkholder said. “Was it an innocent mistake?” Was it harmful? How damaging was it? … It’s hard to do it in one case, trying to do it for every account, you’re guaranteed to make a mistake.”

Angelo Carusone, chairman and president of Media Matters, a nonprofit advocacy group, said Musk’s decision could mean the return of the American Nazi Party and “8chan, 4chan, networks of individuals that include a whole bunch of conspiracy theorists.” harassment and abuse”. 8chan and 4chan are two message boards known for racist and anti-Semitic posts.

Reversing the suspension would mean “turning Twitter into a one-stop shop for doxing and harassment and an engine of radicalization,” Caruson said. “It’s a red pill Pez dispenser.”

And logging out of Twitter doesn’t keep you safe. “Even if you’re not on Twitter, you can still be a recipient of these campaigns,” he said. He predicted that health workers, voters, journalists and teachers would all be targeted.

“Making key moderation and enforcement decisions involuntarily is troubling CEO behavior,” said Nora Benavidez, senior counsel and director of digital justice and civil rights at the nonprofit advocacy group Free Press. “Musk, under the auspices of democracy, is legitimizing decisions that have very dangerous consequences in the real world.”

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Benavidez said organizations including the Free Press have spent years educating tech giants on complex trust and security issues and “pressing them to understand the really delicate and complex role they play in reducing harm to real people.” If a “blanket amnesty” is granted to most of the suspended accounts, “it will be open season for people suspended for hate speech, harassment, disinformation, conspiracy and extremism,” Benavides said. “It’s open season in the most dangerous ways.”

“You have journalists, activists from authoritarian regimes in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, who are now at the mercy of even more vicious trolls and can’t fight back,” Caraballo said. “It’s life or death for people.”

Advertisers are leaving Twitter. Musk can’t afford to lose anymore.

The lifting of the suspension, just days after a mass shooting at the Q Club in Colorado Springs that left five dead and 18 injured, has alarmed LGBTQ activists. Several of the reinstated accounts had previously been suspended for hateful rhetoric against the gay and trans community. , and Musk was criticized for responding to right-wing YouTube star Tim Poole and other anti-LGBTQ accounts who falsely claimed to have held a “waiting event” at the club.

“This is a blow to LGBTQ people,” Caraballo said.

In the days since he took over Twitter, Musk has promised not to change the site’s moderation policies or restore accounts until Musk appoints a moderation board. But Musk recently refused to name such advice and fired hundreds of Twitter employees whose jobs police records on the site.

Dozens of Twitter advertisers have stopped spending on the platform since Musk took office, worried about how his approach to content moderation could affect the tone of the site.



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