Musk emerging as Twitter’s chief moderator ahead of midterms

Nov 1, 2022, 2:18 PM | Updated: Nov 3, 2022, 6:06 pm
FILE - Tesla CEO Elon Musk introduces the Cybertruck at Tesla's design studio on Nov. 21, 2019, in ...

FILE - Tesla CEO Elon Musk introduces the Cybertruck at Tesla's design studio on Nov. 21, 2019, in Hawthorne, Calif. Days after taking over Twitter and a week before the 2022 U.S. midterm elections, Musk has positioned himself as moderator-in-chief of one of the most important social media platforms in American politics. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)

(AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Days after taking over Twitter and a week before the U.S. midterm elections, billionaire Elon Musk has positioned himself as moderator-in-chief of one of the most important social media platforms in American politics.

Musk has said he won’t make major decisions about content or restoring banned accounts before setting up a “content moderation council” with diverse viewpoints. But his own behavior as a prolific tweeter has signaled otherwise.

He’s engaged directly with figures on the political right who are appealing for looser restrictions, including a Republican candidate for Arizona secretary of state who credits Musk with enabling him to begin tweeting again after his account was briefly suspended Monday.

Musk even changed his profile to “Twitter Complaint Hotline Operator” — with a photo of himself when he was a toddler holding a telephone. But it is almost impossible for those outside of Twitter to know what strings he is pulling or whose accounts have been suspended: The company has stopped responding to media questions, except for the few that Musk answers by tweet.

Musk’s promised interventions started last week on his first full day as Twitter’s owner. A conservative political podcaster shared examples of the platform allegedly favoring liberals and secretively downgrading conservative voices — a common criticism that Twitter’s previous leaders dismissed as inaccurate. “I will be digging in more today,” Musk responded.

It continued when the daughter of Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, whose provocative critiques of “politically correct” culture and feminism are popular with some right-wing activists, appealed for Musk to restore her father’s account after a tweet about transgender actor Elliot Page that apparently ran afoul of Twitter’s rules on hateful conduct.

“Anyone suspended for minor & dubious reasons will be freed from Twitter jail,” Musk pledged. He had months earlier said in reference to Peterson that Twitter was “going way too far in squashing dissenting opinions.”

One of Musk’s first big moves was an open letter to advertisers — Twitter’s chief revenue source — promising that he would not let Twitter descend into a “free-for-all hellscape” as he follows through with his plans to promote free speech on the platform. And he’s suggesting asking users to pay $8 for a coveted verified blue check mark as a way to diversify revenue.

The check mark has been criticized as a symbol of elitism on the platform. But its primary purpose has been to verify that accounts in the public eye — such as politicians, brands and journalists — are who they say they are. It’s been a tool to prevent impersonation and help stem the flow of misinformation.

But some still have their worries about Musk opening the platform to a flood of online toxicity that’s bad for their brands. General Motors has said it will suspend advertising on Twitter as it monitors the platform under Musk, and others are facing pressure to review their own plans. On Tuesday, more than three dozen advocacy organizations sent an open letter to Twitter’s top 20 advertisers, calling on them to commit to halting advertising on the platform if Twitter under Musk undermines “brand safety” and guts content moderation.

Over the weekend, the billionaire posted — then deleted — an article that contained baseless rumors about the attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband. And much of his commentary in recent days has been a response to appeals from conservative voices.

In a text exchange with The Associated Press, Mark Finchem, the Republican running to become Arizona’s secretary of state, said his access to the platform was restored quickly after reaching out to Musk via his personal Twitter handle. Asked why his account was suspended, Finchem said: “Perhaps you should reach out to Elon Musk. We were banned for an unknown reason, we reached out to him and 45 minutes later we were reinstated.”

Finchem, who questions the results of the 2020 presidential election and was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, has drawn national attention for his statements about election security and his ability to change election rules if he wins the state’s top election post next week.

Musk tweeted Monday evening that he was “Looking into it” in response to a complaint about Finchem’s apparent suspension. The complaint came from attorney Jenna Ellis, who was a legal adviser to former President Donald Trump’s campaign. About 40 minutes later, Finchem posted a “test” tweet on his account, which was followed by a lengthier post thanking Musk for restoring his ability to use the site.

“Thank you @elonmusk for stopping the commie who suspended me from Twitter a week before the election,” Finchem wrote in the Tweet. “Twitter is much better with you at the helm.”

Jared Holt, a senior research manager at The Institute for Strategic Dialogue, said big social media companies have typically operated on the whims of their owners. But “that problem is especially glaring when somebody like Elon Musk takes the reins and kind of establishes himself as king of the platform, rather than an owner trying to run a coherent business,” Holt said.

At the same time, Musk has sent mixed signals about his intentions. Despite overt examples of appealing to conservative calls and complaints about Twitter’s policies, there’s also plenty of evidence that the platform’s policies on combating misinformation are still in effect. Separately, Musk has defended Twitter’s ongoing head of trust and safety, Yoel Roth, after some conservative users called for his firing over past comments expressing liberal views.

Roth remained on the job this week after other top executives were fired or resigned. And apart from Musk, he appeared to be the chief public voice of Twitter’s content moderation, explaining that the company spent the weekend working to remove a “surge in hateful conduct” following Musk’s takeover.

“We’ve all made some questionable tweets, me more than most, but I want to be clear that I support Yoel,” Musk tweeted in response to a complaint from another conservative commentator. “My sense is that he has high integrity, and we are all entitled to our political beliefs.”

Some longtime Twitter observers have expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of Musk’s planned content moderation council. In part, that’s because Twitter already has a trust and safety advisory council to address moderation questions.

“Truly I can’t imagine how it would differ,” said Danielle Citron, a University of Virginia law professor who sits on the council and has been working with Twitter since 2009 to tackle online harms, such as threats and stalking. “Our council has the full spectrum of views on free speech.”

Citron said she’s still waiting to hear if the council will be having its next meeting, scheduled for the day after the midterms.

—–

O’Brien reported from Providence, Rhode Island.. AP Writer Bob Christie in Phoenix contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

A migrant from Michoacan, Mexico, uses the CBPOne app Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, in Tijuana, Mexico. A...
Associated Press

Online system to seek asylum in US is quickly overwhelmed

TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) — Hours before sunrise, migrants at one of Mexico’s largest shelters wake up and go online, hoping to secure an appointment to try to seek asylum in the U.S. The daily ritual resembles a race for concert tickets when online sales begin for a major act, as about 100 people glide their […]
7 hours ago
Associated Press

Challenge for Tunisian democracy: Getting voters to show up

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia was once the Arab world’s hope for a new era of democracy. Now it’s in the midst of an election that’s more of an embarrassment than a model. Barely 11% of voters turned out in the first round of parliamentary elections last month, boycotted by opposition Islamists and ignored by […]
7 hours ago
Associated Press

Philippines probes labor abuses in Kuwait after new killing

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine government said Saturday it will take steps to assess and prevent abuses including rape and maltreatment of Filipino workers in Kuwait, after a housemaid was killed and dumped in a desert in the oil-rich emirate. The remains of Jullebee Ranara were flown home Friday night from Kuwait, where the […]
7 hours ago
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni departs Algiers after a two day official visit in Algeria, Mo...
Associated Press

Italy, Libya sign $8B gas deal as PM Meloni visits Tripoli

CAIRO (AP) — Italy’s prime minister held talks in Libya on Saturday with officials from the country’s west-based government focusing on energy and migration, top issues for Italy and the European Union. During the visit, the two countries’ oil companies signed a gas deal worth $8 billion — the largest single investment in Libya’s energy […]
7 hours ago
FILE  - A view of a Flybe flight departing from Manchester Airport, Manchester, England, Jan. 13, 2...
Associated Press

Flights canceled as UK airline Flybe sinks into bankruptcy

LONDON (AP) — Struggling U.K. regional airline Flybe collapsed for the second time in three years Saturday, putting jobs on the line and leaving passengers stranded. The airline initially slumped into bankruptcy in March 2020, shedding 2,400 jobs, as coronavirus restrictions decimated the travel industry. It relaunched in April last year, flying many of the […]
7 hours ago
CORRECTS THE PHOTOGRAPHER'S NAME TO KWIYEON HA - Staff of Kyodo Senpaku Co. holds canned whale meat...
Associated Press

Japan firm opens whale meat vending machines to push sales

YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — A Japanese whaling operator, after struggling for years to promote its products amid protests from conservationists, has found a new way to cultivate clientele and bolster sales: whale meat vending machines. The Kujira (Whale) Store, an unmanned outlet that recently opened in the port town of Yokohama near Tokyo, houses three […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Fiesta Bowl Foundation

Celebrate 50 years of Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade magic!

Since its first production in the early 1970s, the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe has been a staple of Valley traditions, bringing family fun and excitement to downtown Phoenix.
...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet edges out cable for everyday use

In a world where technology drives so much of our daily lives, a lack of high-speed internet can be a major issue.
...
Quantum Fiber

Stream 4K and more with powerful, high-speed fiber internet

Picking which streaming services to subscribe to are difficult choices, and there is no room for internet that cannot handle increased demands.
Musk emerging as Twitter’s chief moderator ahead of midterms