Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has sparked excitement, apprehension, and plenty of snide comments from observers who don’t give a damn about the mammoth task ahead of him, especially since he’s laid off so many employees.
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Because the “public place” that he bought for 44 billion dollars has legal, ethical and technical responsibilities disproportionate to his possibilities.
Twitter does not have the human and financial resources of its neighbors Meta and Google, but it must handle similar issues, from content moderation to cybersecurity and compliance with different laws depending on the country.
But Elon Musk has laid off management and plans to lay off about 75% of Twitter’s 7,500 employees, according to the Washington Post.
More than 700 people have already left this summer, of their own volition, according to an employee who wishes to remain anonymous.
The platform “has a myriad of safety and security issues,” says Rebekah Tromble, a professor at George Washington University. “My worst fear at this stage is a plan for mass layoffs or mass resignations. This would greatly set back an already flawed system.”
Twitter had “only” 238 million daily active users at the end of June, a fraction of the attendance of Facebook or YouTube, but attendance by lawmakers and other media personalities regularly puts it at the center of controversy.
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The social network is harshly criticized both by the American right, which is considered censored, as well as by the left and many NGOs who advocate a stronger fight against abuses.
Currently, Twitter applies sanctions ranging from warnings, removal of tweets and suspension of accounts for crimes such as misrepresenting COVID-19, racist messages or incitement to violence.
“It is not 100% effective. And when hate or bullying gets out, it translates into real-life harm,” said Rebekah Tromble.
Elon Musk already appears to have tempered his absolutist approach to free speech, to reassure advertisers who are usually concerned not to associate their brand with non-consensual content.
The new boss promised that Twitter would not become “infernal” and that he would provide the platform with a “content moderation table” to make decisions.
“Twitter has had such a committee in the past, like other social networks. It never leads to much”, judges Rebekah Tromble.
Tech companies have also devised sophisticated algorithms to filter out problematic content, “but in practice, the moderation is done by tens of thousands of underpaid people,” he adds.
On Friday, Elon Musk seemed determined to provide after-sales service himself.
“Those who have been suspended for minor or dubious reasons will be released from Twitter prison,” he replied, for example, to a user who asked him to let his father return to the platform.
“Welcome to Hell”
The billionaire will come under pressure from his admirers, but also from the many governments that question the powers of social networks.
“Your room for maneuver will be reduced by the new rules adopted in Europe and India,” Judge Emma Llanso of the NGO Center for Democracy and Technology.
The United States has been more lax for a long time, but some conservative states now want to regulate restraint as well.
“Musk will find himself in a difficult position if the law approved in Texas imposes maintaining certain content that Europe requires to withdraw,” summarizes the specialist.
“Are you excited that the Chinese government is finding ways to threaten Tesla’s business in China over content appearing on Twitter? Because it will happen,” Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief of The Verge, wrote in an editorial directed at the businessman on Friday. .
The tweet network must also defend against cyberattacks on a daily basis, from hackers to criminal groups and agencies working on behalf of foreign states.
In July 2020, the accounts of American personalities, including Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Jeff Bezos (the founder of Amazon) and… Elon Musk, had been hacked by young Americans who had obtained the identifiers of the employees.
“You are now the king of Twitter and people think that you are now personally responsible for everything that happens on it,” Nilay Patel scoffed. “Welcome to hell. It was your idea.”
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