The Twitter CEO did not respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post on Thursday. The poll received more than 3 million votes.
The mass repatriation of users banned for offenses such as violent threats, harassment and misinformation will have a significant impact on the platform, experts said. And many wondered how such a revival would be handled, given it’s unclear what Musk means by “egregious spam” and the difficulty of weeding out users who “broke the law,” which varies widely by jurisdiction and country is.
“Apple and Google need to seriously start booting Twitter out of the App Store,” said Alejandra Caraballo, clinical instructor at Harvard Law’s Cyberlaw Clinic. “What Musk is doing is existentially dangerous for various marginalized communities. It’s like opening the gates of hell in terms of the devastation it will cause. Individuals who have been involved in direct targeted harassment may come back and engage in doxing, targeted harassment, malicious bullying, incitement to violence, and celebration of violence. I can’t even begin to tell you how dangerous that will be.”
Musk’s “free speech” agenda is dismantling security work at Twitter, insiders say
This is the second time in a week that Musk has used a Twitter poll to appear to make a major decision regarding the platform. On November 18, he reinstated former President Donald Trump’s account after 52 percent of those polled said he should do so. “Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” Musk tweeted, Latin for “the voice of the people is the voice of God.”
Experts say bots and bad actors can easily skew the results of a Twitter poll, so basing decisions on one is irresponsible. “A Twitter poll can be manipulated, it’s not in any way scientific or rigorous in what it’s doing,” said Sarah T. Roberts, UCLA associate professor and faculty director of UCLA’s Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, who previously did research at Twitter Content moderation processes.
“Before Elon took over,” Roberts added, “there were entire teams of people doing market and user research and following strict protocols set up for conducting this type of research. All of a sudden, he’s running Twitter with totally unscientific polls that ask unknown people, and certainly not a demographically representative group of people.”
Many are predicting that restoring suspended accounts will help create the “free-for-all hellscape,” which Musk had promised advertisers would not materialize soon after his takeover of the platform.
“This would be a major disaster, especially in Africa where government-sponsored Ghost accounts have been suspended for endangering human rights activists and journalists.” Hopewell Chin’ono, tweeted a journalist in Africa. “You would have allowed despicable people to endanger our lives as journalists! You will have blood on your hands @elonmusk.”
Twitter king Dril on Musk’s chaotic rule
Whether Musk can do what the Twitter poll calls for is debatable. He fired the heads of the trust and security team that would normally handle the logistics of reactivating the accounts. And the segregation of those who “broke the law” is entirely dependent on Twitter having detailed documentation for each suspension. Without such a legal filter, which would be subject to state and local laws for each tweet, each account would have to be thoroughly scrutinized as laws vary greatly by country and region.
Madeleine Burkholder, a senior technical solutions engineer who has worked on managing spam for consumer products, said Musk’s request was nonsensical. “Egregious spamming isn’t a technical term,” she said, and most records at big tech companies don’t include questions about local government laws. The norm is to simply note if an account has violated a company’s terms of service, which are rules set by the platform and not by a government agency.
“It’s going to be really hairy pulling those strings apart and figuring out what the exact behavior was that led to her suspension,” Burkholder said. “Was it a harmless mistake? Was it malicious? How bad was it? … Doing that in a single case is a challenge, if you’re trying to do it for every account you’re bound to make mistakes.”
Angelo Carusone, chairman and president of Media Matters, a nonprofit advocacy group and media regulator, said Musk’s decision could mean bringing back networks of individuals, including the American Nazi Party and “a whole bunch of 8chan, 4chan, conspiracy theorists getting involved Harassment and Abuse.” 8chan and 4chan are two forums known for their racist and anti-Semitic posts.
Lifting the suspensions would mean “transforming Twitter into a focal point for the operationalization of doxing and harassment and an engine for radicalization,” Carusone said. “It’s a red Pez pill dispenser.”
And leaving Twitter will not protect you. “Even if you’re not on Twitter, you can still be a recipient of these campaigns,” he said. He predicted public health officials, election officials, journalists and teachers would be targeted.
“Making important moderation and enforcement decisions on a whim worries the behavior of CEOs,” said Nora Benavidez, senior counsel and director of digital justice and civil rights at Free Press, a nonprofit advocacy group. “Under the auspices of democracy, Musk legitimizes decisions that will have deeply dangerous consequences in the real world.”
Benavidez said organizations like Free Press have spent years educating tech giants on complex trust and security issues and “pressurizing them to understand the really delicate and complex role they play in mitigating harm, the real people.” is added”. If a “general amnesty” is granted for the majority of banned accounts, “it will be an open season for people banned for hate, harassment, disinformation, conspiracy and extremism,” Benavidez said. “It’s Open Season in the most dangerous way.”
“You have journalists, activists in authoritarian regimes in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, who are now at the mercy of even more vicious trolls and unable to fight back,” Caraballo said. “It’s literally a matter of life or death for people.”
Advertisers are dropping Twitter. Musk can’t afford to lose any more.
The lifting of lockdowns was particularly troubling for LGBTQ activists as it came just days after a mass killing at Club Q in Colorado Springs that killed five and injured 18. Several of the recovered accounts had previously been banned for hateful rhetoric towards the gay and trans community, and Musk has been criticized for shaming Tim Pool, a right-wing YouTube star who falsely claimed the club had a “care event” and others hosted anti-LGBTQ accounts.
“This is a slap in the face to LGBTQ people,” Caraballo said.
In the days after he took over Twitter, Musk initially vowed not to change the site’s moderation policy and would restore accounts until he appointed a moderation council. But more recently, Musk has backtracked on naming such a council, firing hundreds of Twitter employees tasked with overseeing posts on the site.
Dozens of Twitter advertisers have stopped spending on the platform following Musk’s acquisition over concerns about how his approach to content moderation could affect the site’s tone.