SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — New Twitter owner Elon Musk said Thursday he’s granting “amnesty” for suspended accounts, which online safety experts predict will spur an increase in harassment, hate speech and misinformation.
The billionaire’s announcement came after he asked in a poll posted on his timeline to vote on reinstatements for accounts that have not “broken the law or engaged in blatant spam”. Yes was 72%.
“People have spoken. The amnesty starts next week. Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” Musk tweeted using a Latin phrase meaning “the voice of the people, the voice of God.”
Musk used the same Latin phrase after posting a similar poll last weekend before reinstating former President Donald Trump’s account, which Twitter had banned for encouraging the January 6, 2021 Capitol uprising. Trump said that he won’t be returning to Twitter but hasn’t deleted his account.
Such online surveys are far from scientific and can be easily influenced by bots.
In the month since Musk took over Twitter, groups monitoring the platform for racist, anti-Semitic and other toxic speech say it’s on the rise in the world’s de facto public square. This has included a increase in racist abuse of World Cup soccer players which Twitter is presumably not acting on.
The rise in harmful content is largely due to the turmoil following Musk’s decision to fire half of the company’s 7,500-strong workforce, fire top executives, and then institute a series of ultimatums that prompted hundreds more to resign. They also let go of an untold number of contractors responsible for content moderation. Among those who resigned over lack of faith in Musk’s willingness to stop Twitter from turning into a mess of unchecked talk they were Twitter’s head of trust and security, Yoel Roth.
Major advertisers have also left the platform.
On Oct. 28, the day after taking control, Musk tweeted that no suspended accounts would be reinstated until Twitter formed a “content moderation council” with different viewpoints that would consider cases.
On Tuesday, he said he was reneging on that promise because he had agreed at the insistence of “a grand coalition of socio-political activist groups” who later “broke the deal” by urging advertisers to at least temporarily stop giving Twitter their business.
A day earlier, Twitter reinstated the personal account of far-right representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was banned in January for violating the platform’s COVID misinformation policies.
Musk, meanwhile, has become increasingly friends with right-wing figures on Twitter. Ahead of this month’s US midterm elections, he urged “independent” people to vote Republican.
A European Union report released on Thursday said Twitter took longer to review hateful content and removed less of it this year than it did in 2021. The report was based on data collected during the spring – before Musk acquired Twitter – as part of an annual assessment of online platforms’ compliance with the blockade’s code of conduct on disinformation. It found that Twitter rated just over half of received notifications of illegal hate speech within 24 hours, down from 82% in 2021.