Now that Twitter has ceded sole ownership of its platform to business magnate Elon Musk, Musk will have the opportunity to make good on his promise to convert Twitter into a genuine free speech platform. Below, I offer some suggestions for how he might go about this important task. My suggestions are consistent with the letter, and certainly the spirit, of his own statements prior to the takeover:
1. First, all account suspensions should be systematically reviewed and reversed at the earliest possible opportunity if it is found that their suspension was motivated by a political or scientific disagreement rather than on account of unlawful behaviour or incitement to violence.
2. Second, going forward, content moderation should be guided by widely shared values such as non-violence and criminal law rather than by partisan agendas such as transgender advocacy, witch-hunts against safe and repurposed drugs like Ivermectin, suppression of dissenting voices within the medical community, or a commitment to politically and scientifically contested public policies like lockdowns. Users should feel secure that this is a platform for a broad spectrum of political, philosophical, scientific, and religious standpoints, rather than the plaything of Pfizer or Woke leftism.
3. Third, as Musk himself has suggested, all algorithms used to control the flow of information on Twitter should be made public, and any restrictions upon the visibility of people’s tweets should be announced to users in a transparent manner and only employed very sparingly, if at all.
4. Fourth, any punitive intervention in a person’s account, such as a suspension, must be subject to a fair and transparent appeals process, in which questions and queries are addressed by human beings in a thoughtful manner. There should be multiple levels in the appeals process so that decisions can be reviewed by different content moderation teams and the ideological and political prejudices of one team can be corrected by another one. Reasons for suspensions and for denials of appeals must be spelt out in detail, not just gestured at with generic allegations like “you broke Twitter rules.” Appeals should be engaged with intelligently, on their merits, not just dismissed with pro forma letters.
5. Fifth, as Elon Musk has himself suggested, Twitter should adopt an account verification process capable of eliminating the notorious “bots” that inflict their propaganda daily on Twitter audiences. While anonymous accounts may be tolerated to protect the identity of vulnerable users, their ownership should still be authenticated by Twitter, and there should be incentives for people to hold accounts in their own name rather than anonymously, as this is likely to reduce uncivil behaviour (it’s easier to hurl insults from behind a mask than in one’s own name).
6. Sixth, Musk should follow up on an intriguing suggestion made in 2019 by then-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, along the lines of decentralizing the platform to give users more control over their tweets and even over content moderation rules. This could reduce the need for centralized censorship and permit discursive spaces moderated by user communities themselves. Those who want more censorship could then join more heavily censored Twitter communities, in ways analagous, perhaps, to Facebook groups; those who want less censorship can find Twitter communities more in keeping with their more libertarian ideals of content moderation.
Presumably, it will take some time for Musk to turn around the corporate culture and content moderation rules of Twitter. But when he does, let’s hope that Twitter recovers the ideal of an ideologically open and inclusive platform, and regains some of its lost credibility among the many users, including yours truly, that it has targeted for daring to dissent from Woke and pandemic orthodoxy.
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