The View From Here

Elon Musk, Twitter’s new owner, in a tweeted letter addressed to advertisers, embedded as a series of screenshots without descriptive text:

That said, Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences! In addition to adhering to the laws of the land, our platform must be warm and welcoming to all, where you can choose your desired experience according to your preferences, just as you can choose, for example, to see movies or play video games ranging from all ages to mature.

It is notable how much this deviates from Musk’s own post-purchase goals. In the course of a single interview, Musk went from a free speech absolutist — who would only want to see restrictions when legally required — to wanting to “eliminate” spam and automated accounts. And now, with the goal of turning Twitter into “the most respected advertising platform in the world”, Musk says its policies must be welcoming to all.

How in the world he expects to accomplish that is something I am curious to learn more about. I have an open mind. Yet, nothing in this letter is much different from the kind of stuff any social network says it does. Every platform says it has policies that are simultaneously inclusive and permissive until they are tested. Every platform has figured out there are non-legal limits that build a better community. It is not a great sign that among Musk’s first moves as new owner was to fire policy head Vijaya Gadde.

Manton Reece, “Dear Elon Musk”:

The common digital “square” should be the entire web, with a diverse set of platforms. There should be common APIs but many communities with their own rules, goals, and business models. Concentrating too much power in only a couple social media companies is what created the mess we’re in. The way out is more platforms, free to make the best decisions for their users knowing that there are options to leave and less lock-in for developers.

The development of platforms for specific kinds of social networking made it seem like each was a “town square”: Twitter for short messages and public-facing discussions; LinkedIn for bleak work updates; Facebook for connecting with anyone you ever bumped into at a party. But Twitter is not a town square, and neither are any of these other networks. They only seem that way.

Unlikeable as I find Musk’s public personality, weasel words, and many of his projects, I am cautiously hopeful private ownership will permit the company to right itself. Given the track record of its new owner, I am not expecting many of his proposed massive changes to materialized. I would not be surprised if the first few months are a rollercoaster as Twitter employees much more knowledgable in social network policies catch Musk up to speed, if he is willing to trust their learned experience.

Have to wonder what this means for all those Twitter clones which marketed themselves as more permissive alternatives if Musk follows through on his more extremist policy ideas.

Update: Nilay Patel, the Verge:

The essential truth of every social network is that the product is content moderation, and everyone hates the people who decide how content moderation works. Content moderation is what Twitter makes — it is the thing that defines the user experience. It’s what YouTube makes, it’s what Instagram makes, it’s what TikTok makes. They all try to incentivize good stuff, disincentivize bad stuff, and delete the really bad stuff. […]

There are many competing takes on the Musk era of Twitter — guilty as charged — but this might be the most fully accurate.

Update: Mike Masnick, Techdirt, in a lengthier article about Vijaya Gadde’s tenure at Twitter:

No matter what narrative you believe, Twitter has been by far the biggest defender of free speech online over the past decade, doing way more than much larger companies, and much of that was driven by Gadde’s commitment to free speech. The firing is a loss for Twitter. It’s a loss for Musk. And it’s a loss for free speech for all of us.

An unsurprisingly nuanced and levelheaded perspective. Twitter’s moderation policies do not work perfectly for everyone, and there are still people who receive unchecked harassment and abuse, and plenty of bullshit is still spread without recourse. But Twitter has come a long way from where it used to be and it has managed to be among the most permissive platforms around.