Weakening Twitter’s moderation would be a mistake, says John Bell, a designer who previously worked on Twitter’s anti-abuse team. Outsiders — including Bill before he joined the company — often don’t realize how much work it takes to prevent a site from being overrun with toxic content, he said. Although Twitter has been criticized for not doing enough to contain abuse and harassment, it has developed tools and processes that reduce volume significantly, Bell says. “Everything Musk talks about would undo that.”
In 2016, Twitter created a profile Council of Independent Organizations To provide advice on online security. Alex Holmes, executive vice president of the British nonprofit Diana Prize, which is a member of the council, says he is now unsure how this work will continue. “It is understandable that there are concerns about how this can be achieved if freedom of expression is prioritized to a detrimental extent,” he says. Holmes says he’s heard similar concerns from Twitter employees.
Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO and President of GLAAD, a non-profit organization that promotes LGBT rights and is also a member of Twitter’s advisory board, Tweet on Monday Musk’s ownership has made her “nervous about the safety of the LGBTQ community online.”
To believe that Musk would advocate for women and others targeted on the platform would be “foolish,” says Brianna Wu, a game developer and software engineer who was in contact with Twitter’s trust and safety team until 2020, after being targeted with abuse during Gamergate’s online harassment campaign in 2014. “It’s a billionaire’s version of a right-handed alternate troll.”
After Twitter took action against her trolls, Wu continued to document harassment on the platform, particularly against women and members of marginalized communities, for sharing with Twitter.
Wu said she has never felt that Twitter’s trust and safety team was making policy-driven decisions, a claim that has been brought up on the platform by some of its critics. “They had a version of their product that was bad for users, and it was in good faith that they were trying to figure out how to improve it,” Wu says.
By making the company private, Musk would also eliminate the accountability that the board and shareholders can provide to a publicly traded company. Activist investors have made decisions in the past to try to push Twitter and other social media companies toward goals such as stronger moderation policies and greener operations.
Andrew Behar, chief executive of the nonprofit As You Sow, which represents a group of active Twitter contributors, says that Twitter under Musk will likely look like Meta (formerly Facebook) under Mark Zuckerberg.
“You have one person in charge. Mark Zuckerberg makes all the decisions. No matter what decision you make, he has a 10 to 1 vote preference,” Behar says. “There is a lot of danger when all that power is isolated in one person like Zuckerberg. Now we have that with Twitter.”
Natasha Lamb, managing partner at Arjuna Capital, a boutique investment firm that owns Twitter stock, says she’s worried that even if Musk owns Twitter, he won’t get his full attention. “Twitter is too important to be a hobby,” she says.
Lamb said it was unlikely Arjuna would vote in favor of the purchase. “I think he’s a brilliant engineer,” she says. I’m not sure he’s a civil rights expert. I don’t think he’s an expert on free speech.”
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