Twitter’s new boss Elon Musk took a swipe at a mainstream media report that cited activists claiming lives were being put at risk by Musk’s decision to reinstate a number of banned Twitter accounts, including that of former President Donald Trump.
“Much Ado About Nothing,” Musk said in a tweet Friday, responding to left-leaning Axios’ report that carried the caption: “Activists warn lives at risk over Elon Musk’s amnesty plans for suspended Twitter accounts.”
Musk on Thursday announced a “general amnesty” for some suspended Twitter accounts, provided that the accounts weren’t engaging in “egregious spam” or hadn’t broken the law.
“The people have spoken,” Musk wrote on Twitter in response to a poll that showed the vast majority of his followers on the platform voting in favor of a “general amnesty” for banned accounts.
“Amnesty begins next week. Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” he added, which translates as “the voice of the people, the voice of God” in Latin.
That came several days after Musk ran a poll asking his Twitter followers to weigh in on whether Trump’s suspended account should be reinstated, with most voting in favor.
“The people have spoken. Trump will be reinstated. Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” Musk said in a post.
But Musk’s decision to reinstate suspended accounts has fired up critics who see unfettered speech as a danger.
Axios, a left-leaning media outlet, ran a story in response to Musk’s pledge to restore suspended accounts, sharing it on Twitter with the caption: “Activists warn lives at risk over Elon Musk’s amnesty plans for suspended Twitter accounts.”
The report cited a number of individuals and organizations who had a critical take on Musk’s banned account reinstatement.
One of the individuals Axios cited was Alejandra Caraballo, clinical instructor at Harvard Law’s cyberlaw clinic, who told The Washington Post that for marginalized communities, the amnesty was “existentially dangerous.”
“It’s like opening the gates of hell in terms of the havoc it will cause,” Caraballo said, adding that “People who engaged in direct targeted harassment can come back and engage in doxing, targeted harassment, vicious bullying, calls for violence, celebration of violence.”
She added that both Apple and Google should consider removing Twitter from the respective app store offerings.
The report also cited another opponent of Musks’s banned account reinstatement, Imran Ahmed, CEO of campaign group the Center for Countering Digital Hate.
“Superspreaders of hate, abuse, and harassment will be the only people to benefit from this latest decision by Twitter,” Axios cited Ahmed as saying, via the Guardian.
Musk’s characterization of the claims in Axios’ report as little more than a tempest in a teacup drew a range of reactions from Twitter users, both critical and sympathetic.
‘Not Freedom of Reach’
When Musk took over Twitter at the end of October, he vowed to dial down the previous management’s restrictions on free speech on the platform while pledging to maintain curbs on illegal activity and reduce the number of bots.
He also announced earlier in November that Twitter’s new policy is “freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach,” adding that Twitter wouldn’t demonetize and not promote “hate/negative tweets.”
“You won’t find the tweet unless you specifically seek it out, which is no different from rest of Internet,” Musk said.
Following Musk’s takeover at the end of October, there was a spike in “hate speech impressions” on the platform, Musk acknowledged in a tweet on Thursday.
But those impressions have since dropped to levels lower than before the surge in negative posts, he added.
“Hate speech impressions down by 1/3 from pre-spike levels. Congrats to Twitter team!” Musk wrote.
A Twitter user responded by asking whether “hate speech” means “how often racial slurs or certain bigoted phrases” show up on the platform.
“Yeah, these are umm … bad words. I read through the list last week & have to say I learned a few things,” Musk replied, punctuating his remark with the blushing face emoji.
While Musk did not elaborate further on the concept of hate speech, Twitter’s hateful conduct policy states: “You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, caste, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.”
“We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories,” the policy states.