SAN FRANCISCO — Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk said Thursday he is granting “amnesty” to suspended accounts, which online safety experts predict will fuel a rise in harassment, hate speech and misinformation.
The billionaire’s announcement came after he asked in a poll posted on his timeline to vote on the refunds for accounts that have not “broken the law or engaged in egregious spam.” The yes vote was 72%.
“People have spoken. The amnesty starts next week. Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” Musk tweeted, using a Latin phrase meaning “the voice of the people, the voice of God.”
Musk used the same Latin phrase after posting a similar poll last weekend before restoring former President Donald Trump’s account, who Twitter had banned for promoting the Capitol uprising on January 6, 2021. Trump said he would not return to Twitter but did not delete his account.
Such online surveys are anything but scientific and can easily be influenced by bots.
In the month since Musk took over Twitter, groups that monitor the platform for racist, anti-Semitic and other toxic speech say it has become the world’s de facto public square. This includes a rise in racist abuse against players at the FIFA World Cup which Twitter allegedly fails to act on.
The rise in harmful content is largely due to the uproar following Musk’s decision to I fire half of the company’s workforce of 7,500, lay off senior executives and then institute a series of ultimatums this caused hundreds more to drop out. An incredible number of artists responsible for content moderation were also released. Among those who resigned because of a lack of faith in Musk’s desire to keep Twitter from devolving into chaos of uncontrolled speech were Twitter’s head of trust and safety, Joel Roth.
Major advertisers have also ditched the platform.
On October 28, the day after he took over, Musk tweeted that suspended accounts would not be reinstated until Twitter formed a “content moderation board” with diverse perspectives to review the cases.
On Tuesday, he said he was reneging on that promise because he agreed at the insistence of a “large coalition of political and social activist groups” who later “broke the deal” by demanding that advertisers at least temporarily stop serving Twitter business.
A day earlier, Twitter reinstated the personal account of far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, who was banned in January for violating the platform’s policies on disinformation about COVID.
Musk, meanwhile, has become increasingly friendly on Twitter with right-wing figures. Ahead of this month’s US midterm elections, he urged “independent-minded” people to vote Republican.
A European Union report published on Thursday said Twitter took longer to review hateful content and removed less of it this year than in 2021. The report is based on data collected in the spring — before Musk acquired Twitter — as part of an annual assessment of online platforms’ compliance with the bloc’s code of conduct regarding disinformation. It found that Twitter assessed just over half of the hate speech notifications it received within 24 hours, down from 82% in 2021.
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