Musk must take responsibility to ensure safety, freedom of expression, and participation on Twitter
Since Elon Musk took over Twitter, the platform’s work to counter hate speech and disinformation has been dismantled at a rapid pace. On Monday night, Twitter abruptly dissolved its Trust and Safety Council. Together with 15 other international organisations from the former Council, we have signed a statement condemning the development. We demand that Twitter resumes efforts to promote safety and freedom of expression for all users — not just a few.
Many of the human rights activists that Civil Rights Defenders works with are dependent on Twitter for their work. Especially in countries with limited independent media, Twitter is not just an app, but one of the few arenas where you can exercise freedom of expression. That comes with great responsibility, which Elon Musk’s Twitter seems to completely disregard.
For the past 10 years, Twitter has worked actively to create a secure platform with greater respect for human rights. Part of that work has been their Trust and Safety Council, consisting of independent, advisory expert organisations from all over the world where Civil Rights Defenders has been the only Swedish organisation.
But since Elon Musk took over as owner and CEO, Twitter’s efforts to maintain a well-functioning platform that counters hate and disinformation have been dismantled. Their Human Rights Team has been shut down, the head of Trust and Safety has been replaced, and on Monday night, the entire Trust and Safety Council was suspended via email, barely an hour before their first meeting since Musk took over. Anti-Semitic material has reportedly increased, as well as content that risks sexual exploitation of children. Organisations state that Twitter is acting on fewer error reports.
We are deeply concerned about the platform’s development under the new leadership and how this will affect users, not least human rights defenders.
“The future of Twitter as a safe and secure platform for everyone is more uncertain than ever. It’s clear that Twitter under Musk’s leadership wants to get rid of critics. The suspension of the Council inflicts serious damage on our trust in Twitter, at a time when the major platforms’ commitment to freedom of expression and human rights is more important than ever,” says Marcin de Kaminski, Director of Security and Innovation at Civil Rights Defenders.
Joint Statement on the Disbanding of the Twitter Trust and Safety Council
14 December 2022
We, who are former members of the Twitter Trust and Safety Council, condemn the dramatic changes to, and arbitrary enforcement of, content moderation policies and practices at Twitter, including the abrupt disbanding of the Council on Monday night.
The Trust and Safety Council existed to give expert independent advice to Twitter on its policies, practices, and products and the impact they may have on the rights and safety of Twitter users.
Contrary to disinformation recently spread by Twitter leadership, the Trust and Safety Council did not make decisions about specific posts or accounts on behalf of the company, nor did we have any say in Twitter’s investment or approach to illegal content, such as child sexual abuse material.
Over recent weeks, we have been gravely concerned by Twitter leadership’s apparent disregard for the due process and investment of resources required for effective content moderation.
Substantive policies prohibiting hate speech, harassment, disinformation, and other forms of abuse are vital to setting expectations for healthy discourse and robust participation from a diverse array of users. Transparent moderation procedures that follow norms of due process are likewise crucial to ensuring that users are treated fairly.
Since Twitter’s ownership changed hands, the full Council had not been consulted and planned meetings of the Council were repeatedly rescheduled until the Council was unceremoniously disbanded less than an hour before our first scheduled meeting. Some Council members had hoped that Twitter’s new leadership would continue to work with, and benefit from, the well established and diverse expert advice that the global membership of the Council offered. But, despite assurances from senior staff at Twitter about their commitment to continuing to work with the Council, Monday night’s last-minute actions show that internal decision making has since contradicted this.
We condemn the irresponsible actions of Twitter leadership in jeopardizing the safety of Council members, including those who resigned before Twitter disbanded the Council, by amplifying disinformation about us and the Council’s purely advisory role, sparking huge levels of abuse targeted at the resigning members. Some of us had recently called on Twitter to provide an explanation of what Twitter leadership is doing to correct the false accusations leveled against Council members, which have created safety risks and undermined any trust or ability for members to candidly advise Twitter staff. Rather than respond to our requests, Twitter disbanded the Council.
We call on Twitter, in the strongest terms, to cease making ad hoc, unaccountable, and damaging content moderation decisions and to commit to implementing policies and practices that promote the safety, expression, and participation of its users.
Sixteen former members of the Twitter Trust and Safety Council