Chief Twit Elon Musk apparently had a hastily planned meeting with seven nonprofits via Zoom on Tuesday night, and it left them feeling some type of way about how hate speech and elections will be handled, going forward, at Twitter.
It looks like my pessimistic assumption that Donald Trump would have his account back before the midterms is not going to come true, so that's something. But our former Hater-in-Chief, if and when he does come back, likely will still be hemmed in by Twitter's content-moderation controls. Because, as I surmised months ago, Musk hasn't thought any of this through, and if he doesn't want a mass exodus of advertisers, he can't let the platform devolve back into the "free-for-all hellscape" — to use his words — that it was a few years ago.
Of course he can't lose all the advertisers! Of course he was just shooting from the hip a few months ago when he professed to want unfettered free speech and no one banned from Twitter — because the man has never run a social media company and has been a little busy forcing workers to build cars during COVID and sending rockets to space to think through the myriad problems that come with running a social media company.
So now, barely six days into his tenure as Twitter Overlord, Musk is backtracking a bit, to say the least.
On Friday, one day into his tenure, Musk announced that he would be convening a Facebook-style "moderation council" to handle content and banning/reinstatement decisions, and no one previously banned would be getting account access back until this council made some decisions.
That came a day after he posted a strangely-sincere-for-him open letter to advertisers about his intentions to keep Twitter going for the betterment of humanity — whom he says he loves — and trying to assure them that he wouldn't let chaos and hate reign. He, rather naively, suggests that Twitter can be a space for healthy dialogue again, a place to resolve the "polarized extremes" of far left and far right.
And on last night, Tuesday, Musk convened a virtual meeting with a group of nonprofits concerned about the proliferation of hate speech that has occurred in just the few days since he took charge. There were also groups involved who have expressed concerns about the potential impact on the midterm election if various right-wing trolls and others are suddenly back on the platform.
As New York Magazine's Intelligencer blog reports, the call lasted 45 minutes and was roughly evenly split between Musk talking and Musk listening to others. Participants included Derrick Johnson, the President and CEO of the NAACP; Cindy Benavides of the League of United Latin American Citizens; Jonathan Greenblatt and Yael Eisenstadt, the CEO and VP of the Anti-Defamation League; Color of Change President Rashad Robinson; Norman Chen of the Asian American Association; and Jessica González, the co-CEO of Free Press, which recently called for a boycott by Twitter advertisers if content moderation controls are rolled back.
Also, curiously, Ken Hersch, the CEO of the George W. Bush Presidential Center was involved. A touch of Republican representation, I guess?
The meeting came shortly after many Twitter users noted an uptick in the use of racial slurs and hate speech — a vast testing of the new waters that had even LeBron James tweeting about the disturbing use of the N-word, which he called "scary AF."
González tells NY Mag that she was there to make "tip-of-the-iceberg kind of requests" which include protecting election integrity before next week, "not replatforming people without a transparent process and certainly not before the election," and also making sure that Musk "hear[s] directly from people who have faced hate and harassment on Twitter" before installing any sort of moderation council or making decisions around content rules.
As González sums up Musk's comments, "He talked about, in the meeting, having a broadly inclusive digital town square. I think he believes in freedom of speech for all. The trick is how to get there. And I don’t know that he totally knows how to do that."
González also added that Musk "heard" their concerns about how online harassment — which can hinder free speech — is most often aimed at women and people of color, and she says, "There was not a great response [from him]. But he didn’t blow it off, either."
González describes Musk's tone as "sincere in the moment."
The fact that Musk convened the meeting, perhaps at the behest of Twitter's Head of Safety and Integrity Yoel Roth, shows some effort to get ahead of these issues and at least start to think about them — because pretty clearly he has not!
Meanwhile, as of Wednesday morning, Musk had changed his Twitter bio to "Twitter Complaint Hotline Operator."
Also, a characteristically cryptic and sardonic tweet this a.m.:
you get what you pay for— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 2, 2022
Does that mean he thinks buying Twitter was cheap, or...?