The Elon Speedrun continues; Apparently comedy isn’t quite legal on the new Twitter

from stroking-along-the-curve-of-hypocrisy department

Last week we published a cheat sheet on how to speed up the content moderation learning curve. It went a bit viral, but I don’t think Elon could verify that. In the meantime, he seems to be doing his real speedrun in public.

Anyhoo… let’s just say the next few paragraphs are known as foreshadowing

In May at a conference, Elon Musk said that he was against the idea “permanent” bans.

“I think it was wrong to ban Donald Trump, I think it was wrong,” Musk said. “I would reverse the permanent ban. … But my opinion, and Jack Dorsey, I want to be clear, shares that opinion, is that we shouldn’t have permanent bans.

A few weeks earlier he had said that he hoped that “Even my worst critics stay on Twitter, because that’s what free speech means.”

He also said that when he talked about bringing freedom of speech back to Twitter, he wanted to say “which corresponds to the law” saying “against a censorship that goes far beyond the law”.

And, just as a side note (by which I mean, more foreshadowing) the parody has been declared protected by the 1st amendment, which makes it completely “in compliance with the law”. And, in an important case, the wonderful judge Pierre Leval, underline this parody is still protected by the 1st amendment even if some are fooled by it. In this case, one of the claims was that a parody made by New York Magazine did not qualify as a parody. But Judge Leval clarifies that it does not matter:

Although New York’s position would likely have been stronger had her joke been clearer, the obscurity of her joke does not rob her of First Amendment support. First Amendment protections don’t just apply to those who speak clearly, whose jokes are funny and whose parodies are successful.

Oh, and one more: after taking over Twitter, Musk said “Comedy is now legal on Twitter.”

OK. Enough foreshadowing. On Sunday night, Musk has decreed that impersonation will immediately result in a permaban.

It says:

Going forward, all Twitter handles that engage in impersonation without clearly specifying “parody” will be permanently suspended.

Of course, as pretty much everyone noticed, the “spoofing” accounts that were suspended seemed to be mostly people poking fun at Elon Musk. Most notably, comedian Kathy Griffin changed her name to Elon Musk and poked fun at him. Others had done something similar.

So after just a week of ownership, Musk has backtracked on “all legal free speech,” no permabans, and hopes his critics will stay on Twitter in one fell swoop. It’s almost impressive.

And, yes, you can (and I’m sure some very enthusiastic people will in our comments) argue that spoofing is potentially problematic. Musk tried to clarify that he was talking about accounts with checkmarks (which used to be verified accounts, but under Musk’s guidance now means “willing to pay $8/month”). And, yes, back when checkmarks were about verified identity, I could see how problematic it would be for someone to impersonate someone else. This is less the case with the “pay for a check mark without verification” configuration.

But the key point is that that’s exactly what many of us have been trying to tell Musk since the beginning of March. That moderation issues are not about “free speech”. It is quite another thing.

I don’t blame Musk for trying to address any real potential issues that could come with impersonation. But… if he had even an ounce of self-reflection, he might realize that all these hypocritical gestures he makes suggest that maybe, just maybe, Twitter and all the employees that he laid off, actually had a decent (or, let’s say, very, very firm) understand what freedom of expression really means and how to manage a platform like Twitter.

And while I had really hoped that he might be figuring this all out in secret and just doing it for his fans, it really does seem like Musk is rushing headlong into the content moderation learning curve. and does the same moves as everyone before him. It’s easy to declare “free speech for all” until all of a sudden all hell breaks loose and people are laughing at you left and right.

Either way, the comedy remains legal, and in some ways it’s all very, very funny.

Filed under: content moderation, Elon Musk, freedom of speech, imitation, jokes, parody, permablocs

Companies: Twitter

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