The possible return to Twitter of former US President Donald Trump, who was banned from the platform in January 2021 for using it to incite the Capitol riots on January 6, could have a chilling effect on ad spend and test to the content moderation team, say former Twitter staffers.
On November 18, Elon Musk, who bought Twitter at the end of October for $44 billion,tweeted a poll from platform users asking if they should reinstate Trump’s account. When voting closed overnight on November 19, more than 15 million people had voted. Musk reclaimed that 134 million of Twitter’s 250 million users had seen the poll.
Those who voted decided, by a ratio of 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 back on the platform. (Surprisingly, most people seem comfortable with that bit of Latin: Google search trends I did not see an increase in interest for the phrase).
Trump has already said he doesn’t feel the need to return to Twitter, telling a conference on November 19: “I don’t see any reason for it.” The added that Twitter “has a lot of problems” and “may not make it.” Yet the former president has historical 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 for the White House again in 2024, it could be too much. strong to resist.
Trump’s Twitter account, @ReadlDonaldTrump, amassed a following in the hours after Musk said he might return, and now boasts 83 million followers, more than it had before. his January 2021 ban.
The reinstatement of Trump’s account is in direct contravention of assurances Musk gave immediately after his acquisition of the social media giant, when he said that it was forming a “content moderation board with widely diverse viewpoints.” In that Oct. 28 tweet, Musk assured readers that “no major content decisions or accounts will be reinstated before that council meets.”
A former ad sales manager who worked at Twitter until last week recounts Fortune that the tweet may come back to bite Musk and cause the site’s major advertisers to suspend, or continue to suspend, their marketing on the platform. He and his team were previously bombarded with questions about what Musk’s policy was on Trump’s return, and advertisers’ concerns were only assuaged when Twitter salespeople were able to point to Musk’s Oct. 28 statement that no decisions would be made without the oversight of an independent council.
“I saw the question asked, especially shortly after the acquisition,” he says. “But Elon’s promise not to make decisions like that until he’s convened a content moderation council before reinstating banned users seemed to help. Of course, we now know how that turned out.”
Christopher Bouzy of Bot Sentinel, a service that tracks inauthentic behavior on Twitter, also believes that the reversal of such a vital policy, in addition to changing Trump’s platform, will have a negative effect not only on Twitter, but also on Twitter. the society. “Twitter suspended Trump because he was using the platform to spread election-related disinformation, which led to the attack on the Capitol we witnessed on January 6,” he says. “Allowing him back on Twitter is irresponsible and reckless because Trump continues to spread election-related misinformation.”
Trump’s question is even more controversial because Twitter has managed to significantly reduce the size of its outsourced or outsourced content moderation team, as well as the full-time staff who would work on political speech and election integrity policy development. Keeping abreast of his willingness to spread falsehoods was already a test Twitter struggled with, no matter when it was deprived of many of its employees.
Melissa Ingle, a former senior data scientist working as a contractor for Twitter who focused specifically on civic integrity until earlier this month, says Fortune that Trump’s reinstatement undoes the hard work of the platform. “Elon Musk’s decision to allow Trump back on the platform is incredibly upsetting,” he says. “We all work very hard to keep the platform safe for people to use.”
Ingle worries that the former president is acting as a lightning rod, attracting others who seek to misinform and sow division. “Donald Trump attracted and amplified the most extreme content and conspiracy theories,” he says. “He was banned because he instigated an insurrection and tried to interfere with our country’s free and fair elections. His return is an example of the increasing toxicity and abuse on the platform since the Musk takeover and will have dire consequences for our democracy.”
After the layoffs, Twitter does not have a communication team. Musk’s most significant public statement on the rationale behind the decisions to restore Trump’s account came in response to Jonathan Greenblatt, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League, an anti-hate campaign group, who said movement “It shows that the platform’s protection against hate, harassment and misinformation is not taken remotely seriously.”
Musk’s response? “Hey, stop slandering me!”
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