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

Elon Musk gestures at a February event 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 “blatant spam.”

Why it matters: Online scrutiny groups have reported an increase in racism, anti-Semitism and other hate speech on Twitter since free speech advocate Musk completed his $44 billion acquisition of the social media company last month, though the billionaire said It dropped on Thursday.

A screenshot of a tweet from Elon Musk "the people have spoken" after his unscientific poll results showed that most voters wanted amnesty for suspended Twitter accounts.
Photo: Elon Musk/Twitter
  • Activists warn that the situation would become much worse if people like former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke were welcomed back after a permanent ban on hate speech.

Send the news: Musk tweeted his decision after 72.4% of more than 3.1 million voters supported the amnesty in an online poll, which the AP notes is an unscientific method that is vulnerable to the influence of bots.

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

  • “The choice for advertisers has never been stronger: stick with Elon Musk and support him, or protect their brands and make sure their marketing money is not used to facilitate 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 and journalists!”
  • “You would have allowed mean people to endanger our lives as journalists! You will have blood on your hands @elonmusk,” Chin’ono added in a warning ahead of the poll’s close.

Between the lines: Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law’s cyberlaw clinic, told the Washington Post that Musk’s planned action was “existentially dangerous” for marginalized communities.

  • “It’s like opening the gates of hell in terms of the havoc it will wreak,” Caraballo said.
  • “People who have engaged in direct, targeted harassment can come back and engage in doxing, targeted harassment, vicious bullying, incitement to violence, celebration of violence. I can’t even begin to say how dangerous this will be.”
  • Caraballo said Apple and Google should seriously consider “launching Twitter from the app store.”

The big picture: Groups such as the Center for Countering Digital Hate have reported a raise in racism on Twitter since Musk took over, including research that showed it failed to respond to “99% of the racist abuse” of football players in the run-up to the men’s World Cup in Qatar.

  • Many advertisers have slowed down or paused their purchases on the platform or left altogether. Musk blames Twitter’s “huge drop in revenue” this month on “activist groups pressuring advertisers.”

Worth nothing: Musk promised concerned advertisers after Twitter’s acquisition that the platform would not become a “free-for-all hellscape” and tweeted On Thursday, that hate speech on the site had abated after a “spike”.

  • “I have half a mind to wave my finger at the 1500 accounts that caused the spike, but I’ll be patient,” he said.
  • Musk said last week he would focus on “hate” or “negative” tweets while also reinstating previously suspended accounts.

The intrigue: While Musk has yet to specify which banned users might be affected by the planned amnesty, last week he flatly ruled out restoring the Twitter account of far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

A screenshot of a tweet from Elon Musk saying that hate speech has decreased.
Photo: Elon Musk/Twitter

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Editor’s note: This article has been updated with more comments from Musk and more context.

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