Ex-Twitter employees horrified by Musk reinstating Trump account

The potential return to Twitter of former US President Donald Trump, who was banned from the platform in January 2021 for using it to incite the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, could have a chilling effect on ad spend and test the team moderation of content to its limits, according to former Twitter staffers.

On November 18, Elon Musk – who bought Twitter at the end of October for 44 billion dollars –tweeted a poll platform users asking if he should reinstate Trump’s account. By the time polls closed on the night of November 19, more than 15 million people had voted. Musk claims that 134 million of the quarter billion Twitter users had seen the poll.

Those who voted decided, 52% to 48%, that Trump should be reinstated on the platform. “Vox Populi, Vox Dei” (the voice of the people is the voice of God), Musk tweeted— an indication that he agreed to let Trump return to the platform. (Surprisingly, most people seem comfortable with this bit of Latin: Google search trends didn’t see a spike in interest for the sentence.)

Trump has previously said he doesn’t feel the need to return to Twitter, telling a Nov. 19 conference, “I don’t see any reason for that.” He added that Twitter “has a lot of problems” and “may not get there”. However, the former president has a historic precedent for saying one thing and then doing another, and the temptation to return to the platform that arguably propelled him to the presidency in 2016 – just as he is running in the White House in 2024 – might be too strong to resist.

Trump’s Twitter account, @ReadlDonaldTrump, piled on followers in the hours after Musk announced he could return, and now has 83 million followers, more than he had. previously. his January 2021 ban.

Restoring Trump’s account is in direct violation of assurances given by Musk the day after he took over the social media giant, as he said that it was forming a “content moderation council with very diverse viewpoints”. In that tweet on Oct. 28, Musk assured readers that “no major decisions on content or account reinstatement will occur until this board meets.”

A former ad sales manager who worked at Twitter until last week says Fortune that the tweet could come back to bite Musk and cause the site’s biggest advertisers to suspend – or continue to suspend – their marketing on the platform. He and his team have already been bombarded with questions about Musk’s policy on Trump’s return, with advertisers’ concerns only allayed when Twitter sales staff were able to point to Musk’s Oct. 28 statement that no decision would not be made without the oversight of an independent board.

“I saw the question asked, especially early in the acquisition,” he says. “But Elon’s promise not to make such decisions until he convenes a content moderation board before reinstating the banned users seems to have helped. Of course, now we know how it went. past.

Christopher Bouzy of Bot Sentinel, a service that tracks inauthentic behavior on Twitter, also believes that reversing such a vital policy, along with Trump’s rewording, will have a negative effect not just on Twitter, but on society. “Twitter suspended Trump for using the platform to spread election-related misinformation, which led to the attack on the Capitol that was witnessed on January 6,” he says. “Allowing him back on Twitter is irresponsible and reckless as Trump continues to spread election-related misinformation.”

The Trump issue is even more contentious because Twitter has managed to drastically cut its outsourced or outsourced content moderation team, as well as full-time staff who would work on developing election integrity and political speech policies. Maintaining control of its willingness to spread untruths was already a test Twitter struggled with, not to mention losing many of its staff.

Melissa Ingle, a former senior data scientist working as a contractor for Twitter, focused specifically on civic integrity until earlier this month, says Fortune that Trump’s reinstatement undoes the platform’s hard work. “Elon Musk’s decision to let Trump return to the platform is incredibly upsetting,” she said. “We have all worked very hard to keep the platform safe for people to use.”

Ingle fears the former president is acting as a lightning rod, drawing in others who seek to spread misinformation and sow division. “Donald Trump attracted and amplified the most extreme content and conspiracy theories,” she says. “He was banned because he instigated an insurrection and attempted to interfere with our country’s free and fair elections. His return is an example of the growing toxicity and abuse on the platform since Musk’s acquisition and will have serious consequences for our democracy.

After the layoffs, Twitter has no communications team. Musk’s most significant public statement on the rationale behind the decisions to restore Trump’s account came in response to Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, an anti-hate campaign group, who says the movement “shows that he is not at all serious about protecting the platform from hate, harassment and misinformation.”

Musk’s answer? “Hey, stop defaming me! »

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