Ending Bots Is Excellent for Twitter, but It Is Horrible for Human Beings!
Whatever you think of Elon Musk, and there’s enough to say about him, if the $44 billion plan to buy Twitter goes through, at least the guy in charge of the social media site really uses it.
A recurrent criticism of Twitter’s direction in recent years has been whether those at the top utilize the platform in the same way that normal users do.
Rather than dealing with harassment properly by providing everyone with access to the German option of auto banning neo-Nazi and white supremacist content, Twitter created Fleets, which only lasted a year.
As a box-ticking exercise for project managers, this method looks great, but it appears to users that the organization is distracted and doesn’t fully understand its own service.
Elon Musk enters the picture, armed with billions of dollars and a plan to reshape Twitter.
“Free speech is the core of a healthy democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where important issues affecting humanity’s future are debated,” Musk said in the deal’s official announcement.
“I also want to make Twitter better than it has ever been by adding new features, opening up the algorithms to increase trust, combating spam bots, and authenticating all humans.”
There’s a lot of meaning to unpack in that single paragraph. Even Musk has reversed his previous apparent absolutist stance on free speech, arguing that if it is lawful, it will be permitted. That leaves a lot of lawful speech that Musk will permit, even if it is completely repulsive.
Last week, executive director of Columbia University’s Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma Bruce Shapiro said, “He has a kind of primitive libertarian notion of free speech, which essentially amounts to freedom of the microphone belongs to the person with the loudest voice and the biggest club to beat away anybody else.”
“It’s not exactly a model of free speech.” It’s a bullying approach that turns platforms into vehicles for jeering culture wars and, in the process, suppresses frequently more reasoned voices.”
Laws in countries other than America are a major concern for a potential Musk Twitter. When ideas like defamation, hate speech, and totalitarian regimes are included, what was once a blind spot for US companies takes on new meaning for a social network.
Reading Musk’s words “authenticating all humans” sounds like the Australian government’s fantasy come true to someone in Australia. With an election coming up later this month, the anti-trolling Bill lapsed as Parliament rose.
This was a big stick for the strong and well-heeled to potentially start campaigning for defamation threats and actions against anyone they disagreed with. Given the concept’s bipartisan support, it’s best to think of it as sleeping rather than dead.
The Bill was something about which Twitter has expressed its own reservations.
In March, Twitter Australia’s director of public policy Kara Hinesley said, “Under this bill, online platforms must choose between facing legal liability or handing over private sensitive information about users without a legal determination as to whether the content is in fact defamatory under the law.”
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“We’ve seen a number of people use anonymous or synonymous accounts as means and basically entry points into talks about important subjects, from whistleblowers to even domestic violence scenarios, people who identify within the LGBTQIA community.”
“We believe there are significant safety problems, which would be the polar reverse of the Bill’s stated aim.”
James Clark, executive director of Digital Rights Watch, told ZDNet that anonymity is critical when confronting the powerful.
“Staying anonymous is a way to keep a private existence alongside a public one online in an age when our digital footprint is more permanent and traceable than ever before,” he said.
“Given Musk’s history of pressuring critics and whistleblowers, I expect many individuals would be understandably hesitant to submit identification documents to a network that he controls.”
Twitter being a billionaire’s toy is nothing new (the last person in control now goes by the title Block Head), but it could soon be taken over by a shitposting owner who is only interested in destroying spambots and pursuing them their free speech as defined by the US First Amendment.
Those in the rest of the globe who suffer the consequences of Musk’s initiatives, such as speech-stifling lawfare, are likely to be dismissed as little more than collateral damage, even as they drown in legal bills.