Musk to restore Twitter accounts banned for harassment and misinformation – The Washington Post

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Elon Musk plans to reinstate almost all previously banned Twitter accounts – to the alarm of activists and online trust and safety experts.

After posting a poll on Twitter asking, “Should Twitter offer blanket amnesty to suspended accounts, provided they haven’t broken the law or engaged in egregious spamming?” in which 72.4% of those polled voted yes, Musk said, “Amnesty starts next week.”

The Twitter CEO did not respond to a request for comment from The Post on Thursday. The poll garnered over 3 million votes.

The mass return of users who had been banned for offenses such as violent threats, harassment, abuse and misinformation would have a significant impact on the platform, experts said. And many have wondered how such a resurrection would be handled, given that it’s unclear what Musk means by “blatant spam” and the difficulty of separating users who have “broken the law,” which vary widely by jurisdiction and country.

“Apple and Google need to seriously start exploring starting Twitter from the App Store,” said Alejandra Caraballo, clinical instructor at the Harvard Law 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 havoc it will cause. People who engaged in direct targeted harassment may come back and engage in doxxing, targeted harassment, vicious bullying, calls for violence, celebration of violence. I can’t even begin to say how dangerous it will be.

Musk’s ‘free speech’ agenda is dismantling Twitter security work, insiders say

This is the second time in a week that Musk has used a Twitter poll to seemingly make a major decision related to the platform. On Nov. 18, he restored former President Donald Trump’s account after 52% of respondents to a poll said he should. “Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” Musk tweeted, Latin for “the voice of the people is the voice of God.” “’

That day, he also unilaterally reinstated at least 11 high-profile far-right Twitter accounts, including Jordan Peterson, a professor banned from Twitter for misinterpreting a trans person, and Babylon Bee, a conservative media company. He also restored Project Veritas, a site frequently accused of misrepresenting events it commented on and banned “for repeated violations of Twitter’s privacy policy,” and Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene’s personal account, which had been banned since January for violating covid-19 misinformation policies and uttering violent and extreme rhetoric.

Experts say that bots and bad actors can easily skew a Twitter poll’s results, so it’s irresponsible to base decisions on any of them. “A Twitter poll can be manipulated, there’s nothing scientific or rigorous about what it does,” said Sarah T. Roberts, associate professor at UCLA and faculty director for the Center for Critical Internet. Inquiry from UCLA, who previously worked on Twitter research. content moderation process.

“Before Elon took over,” Roberts added, “there were entire teams of people doing market and user research, following established rigorous protocols for conducting this type of research. Suddenly, it runs Twitter on totally unscientific polls that ask strangers, and certainly not a demographically representative group of people.

Many predicted that reinstating the banned accounts would have very bad results and help create the “free hellscape” that Musk promised advertisers would not come true in a letter posted to Twitter the day he took possession of the platform.

“It would be a major disaster, especially in Africa where state-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 reign

Whether Musk can do what the Twitter poll is looking for is a matter of debate. He fired leaders of the trust and safety team, which would normally handle the logistics of reactivating accounts. And separating those who “broke the law” depends entirely on whether Twitter has detailed documentation for each suspension that includes the local laws the tweet violated. Without such a legal filter, which would depend on state and local laws for each tweet, each account would require detailed scrutiny. Laws also vary widely by country and region.

Madeleine Burkholder, a senior technical solutions engineer who has worked on consumer products that deal with spam, said Musk’s request was absurd. “Blatant spamming is not a technical term,” she said, and most big tech company records don’t include questions from local government legal codes. The norm is simply to note whether an account has violated a company’s terms of service, which are rules set by the platform, not any kind of law.

“It becomes really difficult to separate these threads and determine what the exact behavior was that led to their suspension,” Burkholder said. “Was it an innocent mistake? Was it malicious? How malicious was that? … Doing this on a single case is difficult, trying to do this for every account, you are guaranteed to make mistakes.

Angelo Carusone, chairman and president of Media Matters, a nonprofit advocacy group and media watchdog, said Musk’s reinstatement of suspended accounts could mean the return of networks of individuals who include the party. American Nazi and “a whole bunch of 8chan, 4chan, conspiracy theorists”. who engage in harassment and abuse. 8chan and 4chan are two forums known for their racist and anti-Semitic messages.

Overturning the suspensions would mean “turning Twitter into a one-stop shop for operationalizing doxxing and harassment, and an engine for radicalization,” Carusone said. “It’s a Pez red pill dispenser.” And quitting Twitter won’t protect you. “Even if you’re not on Twitter, you can still be the recipient of these campaigns,” he said. He predicted that public health officials, election officials, journalists and teachers will all be targeted.

“Making major moderation and enforcement decisions on a whim disturbs the behavior of CEOs,” said Nora Benavidez, senior attorney and director of digital justice and civil rights at Free Press, a nonprofit advocacy group. non-profit. “Musk, under the auspices of democracy, legitimizes decisions that will have profoundly dangerous consequences in the real world.”

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

“You have journalists, activists of authoritarian regimes in Africa, the Middle East and Asia who are even now at the mercy of even more vicious trolls with no ability to fight back,” Caraballo said. “It’s literally life or death for people.”

Advertisers are abandoning Twitter. Musk can no longer afford to lose.

The lifting of the suspensions was particularly troubling for LGBTQ activists, just days after a mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs left five people dead and 18 injured. Several of the restored accounts had previously been suspended for hate speech towards the gay and trans community. , and Musk has come under fire for responding to Tim Pool, a right-wing YouTube star who falsely claimed the club held a “grooming event” and other anti-LGBTQ accounts.

“It’s a slap in the face for LGBTQ people,” Caraballo said.

In the days following his takeover of Twitter, Musk initially promised not to change the site’s moderation policies and restore accounts until he appointed a moderation board. But more recently, Musk backed out of naming such a board and fired hundreds of Twitter employees whose job it was to monitor posts on the site.

Dozens of Twitter advertisers suspended spending with the platform following Musk’s takeover, concerned about how his approach to content moderation could affect the tone of the site.

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