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Elon Musk takes a page from Mark Zuckerberg’s social media book

Elon Musk has positioned himself as an unconventional businessman. When he agreed to buy Twitter this year, he said he would make the social media service a place of unfettered free speech, reversing many of its rules and allowing banned users like the former president Donald J. Trump to return.

But since closing his $44 billion takeover of Twitter last week, Mr. Musk has followed a surprisingly conventional social media playbook.

The world’s richest man met with more than six civil rights groups – including the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League – on Tuesday to assure them that he would not make changes to Twitter’s content rules before until the results of next week’s midterm elections are certified. He also met with advertising executives to discuss their concerns about their brands appearing alongside toxic online content. Last week, Mr Musk said he would form a council to advise Twitter on what types of content to remove from the platform and would not immediately reinstate banned accounts.

If these decisions and awareness sound familiar, that’s because they are. Other social media company executives have taken similar action. After Facebook was criticized for being misused in the 2016 presidential election, Mark Zuckerberg, the social network’s chief executive, also met with civil rights groups to appease them and worked to appease angry advertisers. He later said he would create an independent board of directors to advise his company on content decisions.

Mr. Musk is in his early days as owner of Twitter and is expected to make big changes to the service and the company, including laying off some of the company’s 7,500 employees. But for now, he is engaging with many of the same voters Mr. Zuckerberg has had for many years, social media experts and leaders of civil society groups said.

Mr. Musk “discovered what Mark Zuckerberg discovered several years ago: being the face of controversial big calls is not fun,” said Evelyn Douek, an assistant professor at Stanford Law School. Social media companies “all face the same pressures from users, advertisers, and governments, and there’s always this convergence around this common set of standards and processes that you’re forced into.”

Mr Musk did not immediately respond to a request for comment and a Twitter spokeswoman declined to comment. Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, declined to comment.

During Tuesday’s meeting with civil rights groups, which Mr. Musk held via a videoconference service, discussions focused on next week’s midterm elections and his approach to content moderation. , said Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP, Rashad Robinson, the president of Color of Change, and Yael Eisenstat, who directs the Center for Technology and Society of the Anti-Defamation League, who all attended the call.

During the 45-minute discussion, the group asked Mr. Musk for a multi-month moratorium on changes to Twitter’s policies and enforcement processes related to elections, hate speech and harassment – at least until until the results of the midterm elections are finalized and “he has his house to order,” Ms Eisenstat said.

They also asked Mr. Musk to block the return of anyone who had been removed from Twitter for breaking the rules or inciting violence until he created a transparent process to do so, he said. she stated.

Mr. Musk “appeared to be actively engaged and actively listening throughout the meeting,” Ms. Eisenstat said. She added that Mr Musk had told the group he did not want Twitter to be a “hate amplifier” and invited call participants to join his proposed content moderation council.

“He gave the impression that he wanted to continue this dialogue,” she said.

Mr. Musk also told the group that he would not make changes to Twitter policies or reinstate banned accounts until after the final voting results, attendees said.

The billionaire was receptive to concerns raised by civil rights organizations, Messrs. Johnson and Robinson. But they added that their groups were waiting to see what action Mr. Musk might take.

“We were pleasantly surprised at his verbal responsiveness to the things we raised and now we want to see the outcome,” Mr Johnson said.

Mr. Musk, who has worked with a group of advisers to take over Twitter, has also been in talks with advertisers in recent days. Twitter derives approximately 90% of its revenue from digital advertising. While Mr Musk has said he wants to reduce the company’s reliance on advertising, he is under pressure to quickly improve Twitter’s finances due to debt repayments it must make for the takeover.

“We’re having a very productive day meeting with the marketing and advertising community here in New York,” Jason Calacanis, an investor who advises Musk on Twitter, said in a tweet on Monday.

Some advertisers are wary of Mr. Musk’s Twitter if he takes an all-out approach to speaking. IPG, one of the world’s largest advertising companies, this week recommended that clients temporarily suspend spending on Twitter while Mr Musk takes over. General Motors said last week it was temporarily suspending advertising on Twitter.

Other social media companies have already faced backlash from advertisers regarding harmful content on their platforms. Last year, more than 1,000 advertisers boycotted Facebook after civil rights groups staged a #StopHateForProfit campaign to protest the platform’s handling of hate speech and misinformation.

Even Mr. Musk’s decision to create a council to advise on content moderation decisions echoed that of other social media companies. In 2020, Facebook created an oversight board made up of former political leaders and human rights activists to deliberate the company’s content decisions. At the time, Mr Zuckerberg said he did not want to have the final say on what speech would be allowed on the social network and that the company’s moderation decisions could be appealed to the supervisory board.

The oversight board has since issued rulings on such decisions as Facebook banning Mr Trump’s account after the January 6, 2021 riot at the United States Capitol.

Mr. Musk is set to take a similar approach. “Twitter’s Content Moderation Council will include representatives with widely differing views, which will certainly include the civil rights community and groups dealing with hate-fueled violence,” it said in a statement. Tweeter Tuesday night.

Still, Mr. Musk left open the possibility of possibly reinstating the banned accounts. “Twitter will not allow anyone who has been removed from the platform for violating Twitter rules until we have a clear process to do so, which will take at least a few more weeks,” he said. -he declares.

He also expressed support for some existing Twitter features, including Birdwatch, a community initiative that allows people to identify information in tweets they find misleading and write notes with more context. The initiative is still being tested, but is being rolled out to some high-profile tweets.

“Our goal is to make Twitter the most accurate source of information on Earth, regardless of political affiliation,” Musk said. tweeted Wednesday.

Sheera Frenkel contributed report.


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