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Elon Musk refuses to cede control over Twitter’s flashpoint content moderation team



Elon Musk has introduced a broad policy fudge over the policing of sensitive content on Twitter when he formalized his new, more diminished role at the company he bought for $44 billion.

According an internal memo obtained by Reuters, the billionaire tycoon with a penchant for micromanaging told staff he will be relinquishing control over sales and operations, as well as backend functions like legal, finance and human resources. 

To ensure “X”, as he now calls Twitter, develops into the WeChat copy Musk envisions, the workaholic entrepreneur will only retain direct responsibility for product and engineering so he can better focus his efforts on launching new features. 

So far none of this is a departure from script, as Musk had promised early on to do precisely that once a suitable replacement could be found. 

Yet he drew the line at one crucial task that could fundamentally hobble efforts by new CEO Linda Yaccarino to turn the financially troubled company around: The sales manager poached from NBCUniversal will have to share control over its Trust & Safety team, which already suffered the loss of two heads that quit under Musk. 

The decision appears to be a fudge aimed at Musk’s base of supporters who worry that his new CEO will try to appease advertisers by increasing the number of Twitter cops policing the platform. 

A number of alt-right figures such as Dom Lucre have rejected Yaccarino, given her association with the World Economic Forum, and her decision to urge Musk to reinstate the independent Trust & Safety Council as a favor to skittish advertisers. 

Yaccarino’s number one priority is luring advertisers back to prevent the cash reserves of X from being dangerously depleted, now that Musk saddled the company with $13 billion in debt.

Even with the goodwill still associated with Twitter’s familiar blue bird (at least until its “X” rebrand), the platform under Musk already lost half its ad sales thanks to advertisers’ fear of being associated with hate speech and divisive politics. This shortfall has not been offset by stable recurring revenue from Musk’s pay-to-play Twitter Blue subscription service, as he had once hoped.

Musk can now be attacked from all sides in online debates

Enforcing rules and limits to online debates is the bread-and-butter job of any social media platform that doesn’t want its reputation stained as the next 4Chan. If word spreads that users can get away with abusing a platform to spread vitriol or inappropriately explicit content, it can open the floodgates to unwanted elements that scare advertisers away. 

It’s not just cyberbullying, either. Advocacy groups like Equality Labs fear an A.I.-based safety algorithm won’t be able to parse carefully worded phrases that incite outright violence, particularly in more obscure foreign languages. 

If the Tesla boss decides to err on the side of engagement over safety, his X could end up facing the same type of scrutiny that befell Mark Zuckerberg, whose Meta platforms, like Instagram[/hotlink,] are accused of preying on the insecurity of adolescents, and girls in particular. 

Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief of The Verge, compares the dilemma in which Musk finds himself after buying the keys to Twitter for $44 billion to the one faced by alt-right social media companies before him. Every one—whether it be Gettr or Parler—tried to gut moderation, only to subsequently backtrack.  

“They all try to incentivize good stuff, disincentivize bad stuff, and delete the really bad stuff,” he wrote of platforms that survive from ads placed around content generated by their own users. “Content moderation is what Twitter makes — it is the thing that defines the user experience,” Patel added in the piece, titled “Welcome to Hell, Elon.”

Going it alone

Instead of establishing clear lines of reporting and transparent policies, Musk looks as if he wants to personally manage content moderation as well. That may not help, however, as Patel warned. 

Take alt-right figure Dom Lucre again as an example. The influencer briefly faced his own ban for sharing explicit material, until Musk appeared to step in and take personal responsibility to reinstate his account

Nonetheless, the tycoon’s initial explanation for policing his posts—an explanation that referenced “child exploitation”—only served to infuriate the influencer further.

“You’re trying to ruin my credibility? This is toxic as F***,” he told Musk in a post on Thursday.

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