Musk’s Twitter “amnesty” plan for banned accounts alarms activists

Elon Musk gestures during an event in February near Boca Chica Village, Texas. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Elon Musk on Thursday announced a “general amnesty” for suspended Twitter accounts starting next week, “provided they haven’t broken the law” or engaged in “egregious spam.”

Why it matters: Online watchdog groups have reported a rise in racism, anti-Semitism and other hate speech on Twitter since free speech advocate Musk completed his $44 billion takeover of the social media company last month, although the billionaire said Thursday that this was rejected.

A screenshot of a tweet saying by Elon Musk Photo: Elon Musk/Twitter

  • Activists warn that if people like former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke were welcomed back after a permanent ban on hate speech, the situation would only get worse.

Driving the news: Musk tweeted his decision after 72.4% of over 3.1 million voters backed the amnesty in an online poll, which the AP says is an unscientific method prone to bot influence.

What you say: “Superspreaders of hate, abuse and harassment will be the only people to benefit from this latest decision by Twitter,” Imran Ahmed, CEO of campaign group Center for Countering Digital Hate, told the Guardian.

  • “The choice for advertisers has never been greater: stay with and support Elon Musk, or protect their brands and ensure their marketing dollars are not 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 government-sponsored Ghost accounts have been suspended for endangering human rights activists and journalists!”
  • “You would have allowed despicable people to endanger our lives as journalists! You will have blood on your hands @elonmusk,” Chin’ono added in a warning before the end of the election.

Between the lines: Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law’s Cyberlaw Clinic, told the Washington Post Musk’s proposed action is “existentially dangerous” for marginalized communities.

  • “It’s like opening the gates of hell in terms of the havoc it’s going to wreak,” Caraballo said.
  • “People who have been involved in direct targeted harassment may come back and engage in doxing, targeted harassment, vicious bullying, inciting violence and celebrating violence. I can’t even begin to tell you how dangerous that will be.”
  • Caraballo said Apple and Google should seriously consider “pulling Twitter off the App Store.”

The big picture: Groups like the Center for Countering Digital Hate have reported a rise in racism on Twitter since Musk’s takeover, including research suggesting it’s not down to “99% of racist abuse” of soccer players ahead of the men’s World Cup in Qatar has reacted.

  • Many advertisers have slowed or paused their purchases on the platform, or abandoned them altogether. Musk blamed Twitter’s “massive drop in revenue” this month “to activist groups pressuring advertisers.”

In the meantime, A European Union report released on Thursday found that Twitter removed 45.4% of hate speech tweets from March to May, up from 49.8% in the same period last year.

Between the lines: Though this was before Musk took over Twitter, his new policy could put it on a collision course with the EU — where laws like the Digital Services Act give platforms more responsibility to monitor and take down content deemed illegal, like hate speech, with fines for non-compliance .

Worthless: Musk promised worried advertisers after Twitter’s takeover that the platform would not become a “hellscape for everyone,” and tweeted Thursday that hate speech on the site had declined after a “spike.”

  • “I almost feel like pointing a finger at the 1,500 accounts that caused the spike, but I’m not going to,” he said.
  • Musk said last week he would de-emphasise “hate” or “negative” tweets while reactivating previously suspended accounts.

The Intrigue: While Musk has yet to indicate which suspended users may be affected by the proposed amnesty, last week he flatly ruled out reactivating far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Twitter account.

A screenshot of a tweet from Elon Musk stating that hate speech has been rejected.Photo: Elon Musk/Twitter

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Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with additional comments from Musk, details of the EU report, and additional context.

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