Those dedicated to limiting malicious posts worry about Twitter under Musk

SAN FRANCISCO – After Brianna Wu, a software engineer and game developer, faced violent threats on Twitter in 2014 as part of a virulent campaign known as “Gamergate”, she worked with the company to build tools to eradicate misogyny, violence and misinformation online.

Today, she’s worried that all of this could be regretted by Twitter’s new owner: Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, who reached an agreement to buy Twitter this week for about $ 44 billion.

Mr. Musk’s pledge to protect freedom of speech when “unlocking” the company’s potential has raised alarms among those who in some cases have devoted careers to combating the toxic and sometimes dangerous flow of misinformation and misinformation.

Although his exact plans remain unclear, they cite his promises to remove barriers to free speech, as well as his own record of provocative, sometimes insulting, statements on Twitter, including calling a British diver involved in the 2018 rescue of children trapped in a cave in Thailand a pedophile.

“I think it’s just going to be an increasing freedom for everyone,” Wu said in a phone interview.

For Media Matters for America, the liberal-oriented research organization, reasons for concern could be found in the festive responses from people that Twitter had removed from the platform for violating its rules of conduct.

They include prominent conservatives such as Steve Bannon and Representative Marjorie Taylor Green; television company Infowars; and even a QAnon figure called “Clandestine” who helped spread a Russian conspiracy theory about US biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine.

Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, said Mr Musk would have the power as Twitter’s sole owner to phase out many of the efforts that have put the company at the forefront of social media companies when it comes to curbing harmful or hateful abuse. .

In a tweet, he compared Mr Musk’s takeover to the launch of Fox News in the name of balancing what its founders, Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, considered the “liberal media”.

Although smaller than other platforms – with 217 million daily users compared to billions on Facebook and Instagram – Twitter’s moderation efforts had served as an example, as campaigners like Mr. Carusone could point to when they urged other companies to do more to curb dangerous misinformation.

“Do I think Elon Musk will be a vanguard in solving the problems of disinformation and rising extremism? No, I just do not,” he said, adding, “I think there is a very strong argument for “that there will be a dilution of any policy that Twitter has had in place.”

Mr. Musk’s fortune and fame – he also stands behind Tesla and SpaceX – will give him a powerful bully’s pulpit in the furious debates over the limits of free speech, which he called “the foundation of a functioning democracy” in a statement on Monday. the purchase.

He may also face economic and political constraints, such as a new EU law requiring social media platforms to scrub their sites for misinformation and abuse. It could dampen some of the fear of “the sky falling” for his takeover.

At least one idea he has hovered over, and which publishes the algorithms the company has designed, repeats those that people have put forward in favor of reducing harmful content.

They include, most notably, former President Barack Obama, who last week outlined a vision for combating disinformation at a conference at Stanford University that included exposing algorithms to greater control and regulation.

“The real problem,” said Rachel Goodman, an adviser to Protect Democracy, a non-partisan nonprofit, “is that the future of how we share and promote knowledge and debate the key issues of our democracy should not depend on whether a single person in control is a superhero or supervillain. “

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