We’re Officially in the Elon Musk Era of Content Moderation
Kanye West is back. Elon Musk even liked one of his first tweets since returning: “Shalom,” seemingly a nod to the rabid antisemitism that led to the rapper, who now goes by Ye, being restricted from posting on the platform in the first place. It’s unclear if Musk had a hand in West’s return or if the suspension had been lifted before his Sunday tweets. He did so as Musk began reinstating a litany of controversial celebrities and accounts suspended by Twitter’s previous administration.
Between last week and today, Musk has unbanned Andrew Tate, a famously self-described sexist and misogynist who once tweeted that women “bear some responsibility” for being raped; manosphere influencer Jordan Peterson, whose account was suspended this past summer after he refused to delete a tweet in which he deadnamed transgender actor Elliot Page; and The Babylon Bee, a right-wing copycat of The Onion that was suspended by Twitter in March for an anti-trans post. He also let comedian Kathy Griffin, who got suspended in the whole impersonation fiasco less than two weeks ago, back on. And of course, the most notable activation was Donald Trump, whose account Musk restored after polling Twitter users on the matter. (Trump, for now at least, has opted to stay off Twitter, reportedly saying Saturday, “I don’t see any reason for it.” Truth Social, the Twitter clone he helped found earlier this year, would surely collapse if Trump gave up “truths” to return to tweeting about “bad food restaurants” and Robert Pattinson’s relationship status.)
Musk has shown a willingness to stand by some of the high-profile Twitter suspensions dictated before his tenure, especially when reversing course would hurt the company’s already strained relationship with corporate advertisers. On Monday, Musk said that he will not revive the account of Alex Jones, whose conspiracy theories regarding the Sandy Hook shooting recently landed him on the losing end of a more than $1.4 billion verdict in a defamation suit. “I have no mercy for anyone who would use the deaths of children for gain, politics or fame,” Musk tweeted when asked why Jones had not been allowed back on the site. He apparently does have mercy for propagators of anti-trans and antisemitic content, however.
Welcome to Twitter’s new content moderation policy: seemingly wholly dependent on what side of the bed Musk wakes up on or how users respond to random polls. Musk suggested as much in a post last week that vaguely outlined how Twitter will handle hateful content going forward. “New Twitter policy is freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach. Negative/hate tweets will be max deboosted & demonetized, so no ads or other revenue to Twitter,” he wrote in a post that failed to define what he views as negative or hateful.
While Musk’s overtures to Ye and Trump have grabbed the most headlines, his decision to restore the accounts of Peterson and The Babylon Bee points to something more sweeping: an apparent rollback in the anti-trans portion of Twitter’s hateful conduct guidelines. Notably, Musk recently ordered an internal review of a policy that, in part, suspended users who engaged in “targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals,” according to Bloomberg. As Gizmodo reporter Dell Cameron pointed out, that policy is now effectively “dead.”
As part of Twitter’s new hateful-conduct policy—an attempt to split the baby between spooked advertisers and Musk’s fans outraged by the site’s old speech policies—the CEO said that users “won’t find” hate speech on the site unless they “specifically seek it out.” (Of course, at the site’s current trajectory, there will be plenty to seek out for the many who are interested.)
It remains to be seen if the compromise will be enough to appease the numerous corporations that have paused ads on the site. Earlier this month, Musk said that Twitter had suffered “a massive drop in revenue” and was losing over $4 million a day—an accounting figure that he shared prior to the disastrous rollout of Twitter Blue, which caused some major advertising groups to distance themselves from the platform.