New Twitter owner Elon Musk said Thursday he is granting “amnesty” for suspended accounts, which online security experts say will lead to a rise in harassment, hate speech and misinformation.
The billionaire’s announcement came after he asked in a poll published on his Chronicle to vote on the reinstatement of accounts that had not “broke the law or engaged in egregious spam.” The yes vote was 72%.
“People have spoken. Amnesty begins 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 releasing a similar poll last weekend, before reinstating former President Donald Trump’s account, which Twitter suspended for encouraging Jan. 1. 6, 2021, riot in the Capitol. Trump has said he will not return to Twitter but has not deleted his account.
Such online surveys are far from 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 language say it’s on the rise in the world’s de facto public square. That includes a spike in racial slurs against World Cup soccer players, which Twitter is reportedly not responding to.
The rise in malicious content is due in large part to the mess that followed Musk’s decision to fire half of the company’s 7,500 employees and four top executives, and then issue a series of ultimatums that prompted hundreds more to quit. Also laid off were a untold number of contractors responsible for moderating content. Among those who resigned over a lack of confidence in Musk’s willingness to keep Twitter from turning into a mess of uncontrolled speech was Twitter’s head of trust and safety, Yoel Roth.
Large advertisers have also left the platform.
On Dec. 10, the day after he took control, Musk tweeted that no suspended accounts would be restored until Twitter formed a mixed-view “Content Moderation Council” that would review the cases.
On Tuesday, he said he was breaking that promise because he agreed at the urging of “a grand coalition of political-social activist groups” who later “broke the deal” by urging advertisers to stop, at least temporarily, giving Twitter their business .
A day earlier, Twitter restored the far-right MP’s personal account. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was banned in January for violating the platform’s COVID misinformation policy.
Meanwhile, Musk has been befriending far-right figures on Twitter. Ahead of this month’s US midterm elections, he urged “independent-minded” people to vote Republican.
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