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‘Opening the gates of hell’: Musk says he will revive banned accounts

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

After posting a Twitter poll asking, “Should Twitter grant a blanket amnesty to suspended accounts, provided they haven’t broken the law or engaged in gross spam?” in which 72.4 percent of respondents voted yes, Musk stated, “Amnesty begins next week.”

The Twitter chief did not respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post on Thursday. The poll received more than 3 million votes.

The massive return of users banned for crimes such as violent threats, harassment and misinformation will have a significant impact on the platform, experts say. And many wondered how such a resurgence would be handled, given that it’s unclear what Musk means by “blatant spam” and the difficulty of distinguishing users who have “broken the law,” which vary widely by jurisdiction and country.

Since taking over Twitter, CEO Elon Musk has laid off thousands, many of them tasked with maintaining critical services. Former employees fear the site is collapsing. (Video: Jonathan Baran/The Washington Post)

“Apple and Google need to get serious about exploring how to launch Twitter from the app store,” said Alejandra Caraballo, clinical instructor at Harvard Law’s cyberlaw clinic. “What Musk is doing is existentially dangerous to several marginalized communities. It’s like opening the gates of hell in terms of the havoc it will wreak. People who have engaged in direct, targeted harassment can come back and engage in doxing, targeted harassment, vicious bullying, incitement to violence, celebration of violence. I can’t even begin to say how dangerous this will be.”

Musk’s “free speech” agenda is dismantling security work on Twitter, insiders say

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

On that day, he also unilaterally reinstated at least 11 high-profile far-right Twitter accounts, including Jordan Peterson, a professor who was banned from Twitter for abusing a trans person, and Babylon Bee, a conservative media outlet. He also recovered Project Veritas, a site often accused of misrepresenting events it responded to and banned “for repeated violations of Twitter’s private information policy,” and The personal account of Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, which had been banned since January for violating the platform’s Covid-19 disinformation policy and pushing violent and extreme rhetoric.

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

“Before Elon took over,” Roberts added, “there were whole teams of people doing market and user research, following strict protocols set up to conduct this kind of research. polling unknown people, and certainly not any demographically representative group of people.

Many predict that the recovery of banned accounts will help create the “free-for-all hellscape” that Musk had promised advertisers that wouldn’t happen soon after he took possession of the platform.

“This would be a major disaster, especially in Africa, where state-sponsored Ghost accounts were suspended for endangering human rights activists and journalists,” Hopewell Chin’ono, a journalist in Africa tweeted. “You mean people would have let our lives as journalists endanger us! You will have blood on your hands @elonmusk.”

Twitter king Dril about Musk’s chaotic reign

Whether Musk can do what the Twitter poll is looking for is a matter of debate. He fired the trust and security team leaders, who would normally handle the logistics of reactivating the accounts. And segregating those who “breached the law” relies entirely on Twitter having detailed documentation for each suspension. Without such a legal filter, which would depend on state and local laws for each tweet, each account would have to be thoroughly reviewed, as laws vary widely by country and region.

Madeleine Burkholder, a senior technical solutions engineer who has worked on managing spam for consumer products, said Musk’s question makes no sense. “Spamming French isn’t a technical term,” she said, and most records at major tech companies don’t include questions about local government legal codes. The norm is to simply notice if an account has violated a company’s terms of service. These are rules set by the platform and not by any government agency.

“It gets really hairy trying to pull these threads apart and find out what the exact behavior was that led to their suspension,” Burkholder said. “Was it an innocent mistake? Was it malicious? How evil was it? … It is challenging to do that for a single case, if you try to do it 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 decision could mean bringing back networks of individuals, including the US Nazi Party and “a slew of 8chan, 4chan conspiracy theorists who engage in harassment and abuse.” 8chan and 4chan are two message boards known for their racist and anti-Semitic posts.

Reversing the suspensions would mean turning “Twitter into a one-stop shop for operationalizing doxing and harassment, and an engine of radicalization,” Carusone said. “It’s a Pez dispenser with red pills.”

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 is troubling behavior by CEOs,” said Nora Benavidez, senior counsel and director of digital justice and civil rights at Free Press, a nonprofit advocacy group. “Musk legitimizes, under the auspices of democracy, decisions that will have very dangerous consequences in the real world.”

Benavidez said organizations, including Free Press, have spent years educating tech giants about complex trust and security issues and “pressured them to understand the very delicate and complex role they play in mitigating harm done to real people.” .” If “general amnesty” is granted for the majority of suspended accounts, “it will be an open season for people suspended for hate, harassment, disinformation, conspiracy and extremism,” Benavidez said. “It’s open season in the most dangerous of ways.”

“You have journalists, activists in authoritarian regimes in Africa, the Middle East and Asia who are now at the mercy of even more evil trolls who are unable to fight back,” Caraballo said. “It’s literally life or death for people.”

Advertisers are dropping Twitter. Musk cannot afford to lose any more.

The lifting of the suspensions was especially troubling for LGBTQ activists just days after a mass murder at Club Q in Colorado Springs left five dead and 18 injured. Several of the recovered accounts had previously been suspended for hateful rhetoric towards the gay and trans community, and Musk has been criticized for responding to Tim Pool, a right-wing YouTube star who falsely claimed the club hosted a “grooming event,” and other anti-LGBTQ accounts.

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

In the days after he took over Twitter, Musk initially pledged not to change the site’s moderation policy and to restore accounts only after appointing a moderation board. But more recently, Musk has backtracked on appointing such a council, firing hundreds of Twitter employees whose job it was to post police posts on the site.

Dozens of Twitter advertisers have halted their spending on the platform in the wake of Musk’s acquisition, concerned about how his approach to content moderation could affect the site’s tone.

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