of I-can’t-believe-we-all-do-this department
Look, we’ve tried to explain over and over again that Elon Musk doesn’t understand free speech or content moderation. He also seems utterly unaware of Twitter’s incredible efforts to truly protect freedom of expression online (including fighting in court over it) and what it has done to deal with the impossible complexities of managing of an online platform. Every time he opens his mouth on the subject, he seems to make matters worse or further demonstrate his ridiculous and embarrassing level of ignorance on the subject – like endorsing the EU’s approach to flat plate regulation. -shapes (something Twitter has fought against, due to its negative impact on speech).
The latest is that Musk continued his tendency to talk nonsense at a Financial Times conference, where he said he would reinstate Donald Trump’s account.
“I think it was wrong to ban Donald Trump, I think it was wrong, because it alienated a lot of the country and ultimately didn’t stop Donald Trump from being heard,” Musk said at a Financial Times conference on Tuesday.
If you like this kind of punishment, you can watch it all here. I’m just warning you that it’s an hour and twenty minutes of your life that you’ll never get back.
Now, there are plenty of principled reasons why Trump should be reinstated on the platform. And there are plenty of principled reasons why it should be kept out. When the ban first happened, I wrote a long post analyzing the decision, noting that it’s by no means an easy appeal, but there are reasons you can discuss both sides.
Later in the talk, Musk essentially clarifies his point, repeating something he’s said before, that he doesn’t like permanent “bans,” but supports other forms of moderation, including removing content or making it “invisible”. And, again, there’s an argument for that too – in fact, Jack Dorsey said he was okay, albeit in a slightly different setting, noting that getting to the point where the company felt Trump should be banned was a failure for Twitter, and reiterating why Twitter should be an implementation of a social media protocol, rather than a centralized hub. And, similarly, Facebook’s own supervisory board questioned the permanent nature of the ban on that platform, and Facebook responded by saying the ban would be reviewed every two years (though, I’m realize that two years passed earlier this year, and I don’t remember any comments on that…).
So, again, there is some level of reasoning behind dropping the bans. But, again, Musk’s position appears to be based not on a principled argument or an understanding of what really happened, but just random thoughts running through his head. He continues to claim (wrongly) that Twitter’s moderation is biased in favor of “leftists” (evidence points the other way, but details, details…). The fact that he says Trump’s ban “alienated much of the country” omits the fact that Trump himself has alienated much of the country, and dismissing him on Twitter would do the same. But, oddly enough, Musk doesn’t seem to mind alienating those people.
His other point, that he”ultimately did not prevent Donald Trump from being heard” is just… weird? No one has ever argued that Twitter removed Trump to stop him “having a voice”. Indeed, part of the argument many of us made that one of the reasons it wasn’t so bad that he was taken down was because he still had the ability to s express in many other places, including (these days) on his own Twitter-wannabe. All the deletion did was say that Twitter didn’t want it to use directly their site to cause more havoc.
Even more ridiculous though, is that Musk then talked about the hell, let’s call it, its “philosophy” of content moderation.
“If there are tweets that are fake and bad, those should be deleted or made invisible, and a suspension, a temporary suspension is appropriate but not a permanent ban.”
Fake and bad, huh. It reminds me of what Facebook’s early content moderators said was that company’s initial policy, when everything was much smaller: “Does this make us gross?” But they learned, almost immediately, that such a configuration is not to scalenot even slightly.
It is also intrinsically and obviously ridiculous. “Bad” and “bad” are basically subjective terms. Again, this is a point we’ve made before: many social media companies start out with this kind of simplistic view of content moderation. They say they want free speech to be the touchstone, and they will only have to push back the most extreme cases. But what they (and Elon) don’t seem to understand is that there is way harder cases than you can anticipate, and there is no simple standard you can set for “wrong” or “wrong”.
Then, as you (in theory) try to scale, you realize you need to define Strategies with standards for what constitutes ‘wrong’ and ‘wrong’. Everyone can’t be left to Elon to decide. And from there, you quickly learn that for every policy you write, you’ll quickly find many more “fringe” cases than you can imagine. And, on top of that, you’ll find that if you have ten different people comparing the borderline case to the policy, you can get ten different answers on how to apply it.
And, again, that’s actually something that Twitter has spent years thinking about: how to operationalize a set of policies and a set of apps to make them as consistent and reasonable as possible. And you can’t just look at it and say ‘bad things go, good things stay’ because that’s all nonsense and that’s not a way to implement real policy.
If he wants to bring Trump back, that’s definitely his decision. Trump claimed he wouldn’t come back even if Elon let him back, but then again he’s technically suing Twitter to force the company to let him back (judge just dismissed the case, but left it open Trump to file an amended complaint, so the case is not yet officially closed).
But Musk is ridiculously unfair to claim (as a group of Trumpist propagandists have for years) that the decision to ban Trump was because of “leftist ideology” and an attempt to silence his voice. . It was the culmination of a very long series of events, including multiple other types of interventions, including trying to verify his false claims and limit the spread of them (things you’d think Musk would appreciate ), but failed to stop. Trump of seeking to use the platform to encourage violence that was part of an effort to overturn the results of a free and fair election.
Had Musk continued to insist that democratic values are so important (saying elsewhere that he would want to follow speech laws, since they represent the will of the people), you would think he would recognize that the Efforts to cancel an election could, well, raise a few questions. This has been the case for people inside Twitter, who have thought deeply about it and argued over how to handle this. And that discussion and debate was much more serious and deserves more credit than Musk gives it.
At this point, however, it’s clear that Musk’s worldview is simplistic and childish. And that seems unlikely to change. Considering how we’ve seen this play out on other websites, I don’t imagine this will be good for long-term business, but it’s not my billions that are at stake.
Filed Under: bans, content moderation, content policy, donald trump, elon musc