Spaceboy Elon Musk promised the Twitter he was pretty much sued into purchasing would bring an end to all the free speech violations he claimed were happening every day under its liberal overlords. But being an edgelord troll rarely converts into competent management. Musk is speedrunning the moderation learning curve. But he is also discovering there are no God codes available to make the moderation game easier.
Comedy is legal, tweeted the Man Who Would Be Twitter King, shortly before deciding true parody was no longer legal. Pay-to-win verification will make Twitter more trustworthy, he shouted, before yanking $8 verification after it ushered in a historic wave of account impersonation.
A CEO who answers to shareholders will make decisions that may seem poorly thought out, but ultimately benefit shareholders. A guy who thought running Twitter would allow him to better serve a base of “censored” conservatives and rabid fanboys tends to make decisions that valorize him as a free speech warrior while giving this questionable customer base something to rally around.
Who knows why this happened, but one can credibly imagine Twitter’s new cleaning crew has been ordered to give any Musk-related tweets more scrutiny. Musk doesn’t seem to enjoy criticism, which aligns him with pretty much everyone everywhere. But he also has the power to mute criticism, which aligns him with authoritarian regimes/billionaires who own social media platforms.
So, this is the sort of thing that happens. Michael Luciano of Mediaite wrote an opinion piece discussing Musk’s actions since he took ownership of Twitter. Despite it being a very even-handed discussion of Musk’s business decisions, Twitter/Musk moderation decided it was a bit too spicy for public consumption.
Twitter deemed a Mediaite article that is critical of the company’s new owner Elon Musk as “potentially spammy” on Friday night, and diverted users to a warning page when they click the post.
The warning had been removed as of Saturday morning after multiple media outlets – including this one – reported on it.
The post, which is marked “Opinion” and was initially only accessible to users who read through a daunting message and clicked, “Ignore this warning and continue,” is titled “What Elon Musk Is Doing Right at Twitter.”
The entirety of the post’s text reads, “Nothing.”
Succinct. Accurate. And, apparently, potentially dangerous to Twitter users. According to the notice sent to Mediaite, the one-word post violated a bunch of Twitter rules, despite none of the violations listed applying to the post’s content.
The message listed the following categories, none of which the blocked post appears to violate:
– malicious links that could steal personal information or harm electronic devices
– spammy links that mislead people or disrupt their experience
– violent or misleading content that could lead to real-world harm
– certain categories of content that, if posted directly on Twitter, are a violation of the Twitter Rules.
All the post said was that Musk was wrong. The most nefarious explanation is that Musk has elevated moderation of Musk/Twitter-related content and encourages remaining moderators to pull the trigger when the content appears to criticize Musk. The less nefarious explanation is that a bunch of Musk fans brigaded the link, reporting it en masse as ”dangerous,” forcing moderators and/or moderation AI to succumb to the hecklers’ veto. Of course, the other possible explanation is simply mere incompetence, supported by reports of others, such as NBC News also having their links blocked.
Either way, it’s a terrible look for the new boss, who has claimed Twitter is more about free speech than ever. And he’s also learning about the flipside of moderation fuck-ups: the Streisand effect. Any time something negative about Musk is buried (inadvertently or deliberately), it will attract more attention from Twitter users. Musk can’t win.
And that’s the hard truth of content moderation: you’ll never make everyone happy. An even harder truth is that you can’t even make your preferred customer base happy. At best, you can only hope to make users less miserable by removing illegal content and putting procedures in place that give users the power to create the experience they want, rather than being subjected to the outer limits of whatever the platform allows.
To quote the far-more-idealistic Google from several years back, “Don’t be evil.” But evil is subjective. So, maybe the best you can do is not be worse than your predecessors. And if that’s the low bar Musk needs to reach, he’s still appears to be unwilling to attempt clearing it.