Some of the most controversial right-wing figures will return to Twitter next week after Elon Musk announced a “general amnesty” for all suspended accounts.
The Twitter CEO polled users asking, “Should Twitter offer a general amnesty to suspended accounts, provided that they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam?”
Nearly 3.2 million people responded, with the overwhelming majority — 72.4 per cent — voting yes.
“The people have spoken,” Musk tweeted on Thursday. “Amnesty begins next week. Vox Populi, Vox Dei.”
The billionaire used the same Latin phrase, which translates to “the voice of the people is the voice of God”, after reinstating the account of former President Donald Trump over the weekend.
He also polled users about that decision, receiving more than 15 million votes — with 51.8 per cent voting in favour.
Musk has already reinstated a number of banned accounts since completing his $US44 billion takeover last month, including satirical news website The Babylon Bee, undercover journalism organisation Project Veritas and Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson.
He said this week that he would soon reveal how Twitter, under previous management, had unfairly targeted conservatives.
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Responding to his poll, one user said, “Well whatever it decides to do, Twitter should be clear and consistent about its rules and penalties for breaking them, enforcement should be unbiased, and the mechanisms of enforcement shouldn’t be easily abused by people who have an agenda.”
Musk replied, “The more I learn, the worse it gets. The world should know the truth of what has been happening at Twitter. Transparency will earn the trust of the people.”
Another user said, “I heard from a primary source that political groups would regularly contact Twitter to deboost their candidates’ detractors and Twitter would happily do that. That seems to put the finger on the scale of democracy.”
Musk said, “It is objectively the case that ‘conservative’ political candidates were more negatively affected than ‘progressive’ candidates. Anyone using Twitter knows this. Question is simply one of magnitude.”
Another user questioned why algorithms that “deboost” certain content even exist. “We know they’re never used on liberal accounts. Why can’t they be removed across the board?” they asked.
Musk explained, “They need to exist to stop scams, spam, NSFW and illegal stuff from going viral, but they should obviously not be used for political purposes.”
Podcast host Eric Weinstein asked, “Can we get audits of how much these manipulators controlled/distorted the world’s online conversations by throttling, bots, shadow banning, banning, etc and general dirty tricks for years? This question isn’t going away. The graph below is an *indirect* throttling indication.”
Musk agreed, “It has been really bad. Far left San Francisco/Berkeley views have been propagated to the world via Twitter. I’m sure this comes as no surprise to anyone watching closely. Twitter is moving rapidly to establish an even playing field. No more thumb on the scale!”
High-profile figures who were previously banned for breaking Twitter’s rules include the likes of right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, anti-Islam campaigner Tommy Robinson, Canadian podcaster Stefan Molyneux and UK commentator Katie Hopkins, among many others.
It’s not clear whether controversial InfoWars host Alex Jones will be included in Musk’s amnesty.
This week, Musk insisted he would never allow Jones back on the platform, claiming he had exploited the deaths of children.
Jones was slapped with US$1.4 billion in defamation damages over claims that the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut — that led to 27 deaths — was a “hoax”.
The 48-year-old conspiracy theorist, who has apologised repeatedly to the parents, claimed he was put through a “show trial, a literal kangaroo court”.
“Is this a struggle session? Are we in China?” Jones said in an angry outburst during testimony in Waterbury, Connecticut in September. “I’ve already said I’m sorry hundreds of times and I’m done saying I’m sorry.”
One of those urging Musk to reinstate Jones’ account was internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, who said allowing the InfoWars founder to tweet would demonstrate “real free speech”.
Dotcom is wanted by the US Justice Department for crimes including copyright infringement and racketeering.
But Musk wasn’t moved by the plea, citing his own child’s death.
“My firstborn child died in my arms,” he tweeted.
“I felt his last heartbeat. I have no mercy for anyone who would use the deaths of children for gain, politics or fame.”
In 2002, Musk and his first wife, Justine Musk, had their first baby Nevada Alexander Musk.
He died of sudden infant death syndrome, aged just 10 weeks old. The couple went on to have another five children.
In late October, Musk said that “no account reinstatements” would be done until a “content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints” was set up.
But this week, he revealed that the proposal had been abandoned.
“A large coalition of political/social activist groups agreed not to try to kill Twitter by starving us of advertising revenue if I agreed to this condition,” he said. “They broke the deal.”
He later publicly mocked Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the powerful Anti-Defamation League which was involved in the talks.
Musk did not make clear whether the bans to be lifted by the poll were permanent suspensions or temporary ones.
A blanket amnesty for suspended accounts could potentially alarm government authorities that are keeping a close look at Musk’s handling of hateful speech, AFP reports.
It could also spook Apple and Google, tech titans that have the power to ban Twitter from their mobile app stores over content concerns.
The future of content moderation on Twitter has become an urgent concern, with major advertisers keeping away from the site after a failed relaunch earlier this month saw a proliferation of fake accounts, causing embarrassment.
Meanwhile the teams in charge of keeping nefarious activity off the site have been gutted, victims of Musk-led lay-offs that saw half of total employees leave the company.
John Wihbey, a media professor at Northeastern University, speculated that all the chaos might be because Musk is seeking to “buy himself time”.
“Regulators are certainly going to come after him, both in Europe and maybe the United States … and therefore a lot of what he’s doing is trying to frame those fights,” he told AFP.
— with AFP