Twitter Insiders Fear Elon Musk Heralds a Troll Takeover

Jon Bell, a designer who previously worked on Twitter’s anti-abuse team, says weakening Twitter moderation would be a mistake. Outsiders, including Bell before joining the company, often fail to realize the amount of work it takes to prevent the site from being invaded by toxic content, he says. While Twitter has been criticized for not doing enough to contain abuse and harassment, it has developed tools and processes that significantly reduce volume, Bell says. “Everything Musk talks about would get rid of him.”

In 2016, Twitter established a Council of independent entities to offer online security tips. Alex Holmes, Deputy Director of the UK Non-Profit Diana Award, who is a board member, says he is now unsure of how this work can continue. “Understandably, there are concerns about how this would be possible if freedom of speech is prioritized over a harmful measure,” he says. Holmes says he has heard similar concerns from Twitter employees.

Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO and President of GLAAD, a non-profit organization that promotes LGBTQ rights and is also a member of Twitter’s advisory board, tweeted Monday that Musk’s ownership made her “nervous about the online safety of the LGBTQ community.”

To believe that Musk would defend women and others targeted on the platform would be “nonsense,” says Brianna Wu, a game developer and software engineer who was in touch with Twitter’s trusted and security team until 2020. after being attacked for abuse during the online harassment campaign known as Gamergate in 2014. “It’s a multimillion-dollar version of the high-right troll.”

After Twitter took action against its trolls, Wu continued to document harassment on the platform, especially against women and members of marginalized communities, for sharing with Twitter.

Wu said he never had the feeling that the Twitter trust and security team was making politically motivated decisions, a statement some of his critics made on the platform. “They had a version of their product that was bad for users, and in good faith they were trying to figure out how to improve it,” Wu says.

By leaving the company private, Musk would also eliminate the liability that a board and shareholders may place on a publicly traded company. Activist investors have previously tabled resolutions to try to push Twitter and other social media companies toward goals such as stronger moderation policies and more environmentally friendly operations.

Andrew Behar, CEO of the non-profit organization As You Sow, which represents a group of Twitter activist shareholders, says Twitter under Musk will likely look a lot like Meta (formerly Facebook) under Mark Zuckerberg.

“You have a person in charge. Mark Zuckerberg makes all the decisions. Regardless of the resolution you present, you have a 10 to 1 voting preference,” Behar says. “There’s a lot of danger when you have all that isolated power in a person like Zuckerberg. Now we have it with Twitter.”

Natasha Lamb, managing partner of Arjuna Capital, a boutique investment firm that owns Twitter shares, says she worries that even if Musk owns Twitter, he won’t get his full attention. “Twitter is too important to be a hobby,” he says.

Lamb said Arjuna probably won’t vote in favor of the purchase. “I think he’s a brilliant engineer,” he says. “I’m not sure he’s an expert on civil rights. I don’t think he’s an expert on free speech.”

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