What better way to re-engage progressives than with a little social-media justice reform, right? Commuting life sentences? Emptying the social-media prisons, as it were? Offering the “illegals” amnesty?
Don’t expect a lot of cheering from the Left when Elon Musk makes all of this come to pass next week for most of those locked out of their Twitter accounts. Clemency won’t be plenary, but it will still be broad in scope and scale:
Elon Musk said Thursday that he will begin restoring most previously banned accounts on Twitter starting next week, in his most wide-reaching move yet to undo the social media platform’s policy of permanently suspending users who repeatedly violated its rules.
“The people have spoken,” Musk tweeted on Thursday. “Amnesty begins next week. Vox Populi, Vox Dei.”
The announcement comes after Musk on Wednesday polled his followers about whether to offer “general amnesty to suspended accounts, provided that they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam.” …
It is not immediately clear how Musk and his team at Twitter will sort out which accounts had been banned for illegal or spam content versus other violations, nor how many total accounts will be restored.
Musk already has set a few limits to his amnesty program, or at least a few specific exceptions. Twitter users tried goading Musk into allowing Alex Jones back on the platform earlier this week, for instance, but Musk refused. The loss of children is too personal to him, Musk explained at the time:
Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 21, 2022
My firstborn child died in my arms. I felt his last heartbeat.
I have no mercy for anyone who would use the deaths of children for gain, politics or fame.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 21, 2022
That does not mean that no moderation standards will get applied in the future, however. One week ago, Musk laid out the operational philosophy of Twitter moderation: “Freedom of speech, not freedom of reach.” That has been augmented to a new policy where outright bans would be rare and likely focused on real threats and fraud. Those who abuse the platform in other ways will have their reach severely limited and their content demonetized:
Note, this applies just to the individual tweet, not the whole account
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 18, 2022
This is likely designed to assuage advertisers as well as users. By blocking ads on objectionable content, Musk will make the space safe for advertisers, or at least safer. Doing that on a tweet-by-tweet basis seems pretty time-intensive, however; eventually those decisions will likely use a “strike” system similar to that employed by Twitter in the past for its bans.
It may not be all that personnel intensive, however. Musk claimed to have tamed a spike in “hate speech impressions” under the new moderation regime, and noted how few accounts had to be addressed:
I have half a mind to wag my finger at the 1500 accounts that caused the spike, but I shall forebear 🙄
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 24, 2022
More to the point, though, individual users already have tools to shape their own experience on Twitter. The Block, Mute, and especially Leave Conversation functions existed before Musk bought Twitter. Users who troll and spew hate speech can be ignored outright at any time using these functions. Demands to shut down accounts over viewpoints are not attempts to offer a more intelligent debate but to shut down debate altogether. And previous Twitter management played along, boosting progressives and throttling conservatives, rather than explain how everyone could use those tools to create their own epistemic closure without punishing people for disagreeing with progressive positions.
Needless to say, the activists are not happy about these developments. Axios reports that they’re already sounding alarms and predicting that Musk will have “blood on his hands” in a typically hyperbolic reaction:
What they’re saying: “Superspreaders of hate, abuse and harassment will be the only people to benefit from this latest decision by Twitter,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO of campaign group the Center for Countering Digital Hate, to the Guardian.
- “The choice for advertisers has never been starker: stick around and back Elon Musk, or protect their brands and ensure their marketing dollars aren’t used to enable the spread of hate, abuse and disinformation.”
- Hopewell Chin’ono, an award-winning Zimbabwean journalist, tweeted that the move would be “a major disaster especially in Africa where State sponsored Ghost accounts were suspended for endangering human rights activists & journalists!”
- “You would have allowed vile people to put our lives in danger as journalists! You will have blood on your hands @elonmusk,” added Chin’ono in a warning ahead of the poll closing.
Between the lines: Alejandra Caraballo, clinical instructor at Harvard Law’s cyberlaw clinic, told the Washington Post that Musk’s planned action was “existentially dangerous” for marginalized communities.
At least, as one person noted in a reply to Musk’s tweet, Axios correctly uses the word “activists” in this report. Social-media platforms do not cause bleeding, or assaults, or any other kind of physical action. It’s simply speech. Humans who commit assaults or worse are responsible for their conduct, not a speech platform used by tens of millions for debate, discussion, and the latest sports scores. People who engage in fraud or real threats will get excluded, as Musk has already said, but the days of banning people because they argue that “trans women” are and will ever be men are over, and for good reason. Those are issues for public debate, not for imposition of party lines. The activists overreached, and they lost. That’s what this hyperbolic weeping is really about, and it’s clearly not working with Musk.
Update: The reporting on activist screeching is becoming nearly incestuous, as Twitter user AGHamilton points out:
If anyone wants to see the extent to which so much of this reporting has become an activist bubble, same “expert” promoting same view coincidentally cited by Axios, NBC News, WaPo this week. pic.twitter.com/0zCWcZkexi
— AG (@AGHamilton29) November 25, 2022