Musk will restore Twitter accounts banned for harassment, misinformation


Elon Musk plans to reinstate nearly all previously banned Twitter accounts — to the alarm of activists and online trust and safety experts.

After posting a Twitter poll asking, “Should Twitter offer a general amnesty to suspended accounts, provided that they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam?” in which 72.4 percent of the respondents voted yes, Musk declared, “Amnesty begins next week.”

The Twitter CEO did not respond Thursday to a request for comment from The Washington Post. The poll garnered more than 3 million votes.

The mass return of users who had been banned for such offenses as violent threats, harassment, abuse and misinformation would have a significant impact on the platform, experts said. And many questioned how such a resurrection would be handled, given that it’s unclear what Musk means by “egregious spam” and the difficulty of separating out users who have “broken the law,” which vary widely by jurisdiction and country.

“Apple and Google need to seriously start exploring booting Twitter off the app store,” said Alejandra Caraballo, clinical instructor at Harvard Law’s cyberlaw clinic. “What Musk is doing is existentially dangerous for various marginalized communities. It’s like opening the gates of hell in terms of the havoc it will cause. People who engaged in direct targeted harassment can come back and engage in doxing, targeted harassment, vicious bullying, calls for violence, celebration of violence. I can’t even begin to state how dangerous this will be.”

Musk’s ‘free speech’ agenda dismantles safety work at Twitter, insiders say

This is the second time in a week that Musk has used a Twitter poll to seemingly make a major decision related to the platform. On Nov. 18, he restored former president Donald Trump’s account after 52 percent of a poll’s respondents said he should do so. “Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” Musk tweeted, Latin for “the voice of the people is the voice of God.”

On that day, he also unilaterally reinstated at least 11 high-profile far-right Twitter accounts, including Jordan Peterson, a professor who was banned from Twitter for misgendering a trans person, and the Babylon Bee, a conservative media company. He also restored Project Veritas, a site that was frequently accused of misrepresenting events it commented on and banned “for repeated violations of Twitter’s private information policy,” and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s personal account, which had been banned since January for violating the platform’s covid-19 misinformation policies and pushing violent and extreme rhetoric.

Experts say that bots and bad actors can easily skew the results of a Twitter poll, and so basing decisions on one is irresponsible. “A Twitter poll can be manipulated, there’s nothing scientific or rigorous in any way about what he’s doing,” said Sarah T. Roberts, an associate professor at UCLA and faculty director for UCLA’s Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, who previously worked at Twitter researching content moderation processes.

“Before Elon took over,” Roberts added, “there were entire teams of people…

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