Relying on a public online poll isn’t an ideal method to make a major content moderation decision, but that seems to be exactly what just happened at Twitter.
Welcome to the latest episode of CEO Elon Musk’s reality show, where the only constant is change—and whatever seems to generate the most attention.
Musk tweeted early Saturday that Twitter accounts which had been suspended for revealing his location would be reinstated.
The move came after a chaotic week during which Twitter on Thursday suspended the accounts of some journalists—including from CNN, the Washington Post, and The New York Times. Musk had accused the journalists of doxxing his location, saying it against Twitter’s rules. Doxxing is common online terminology for the publishing of private information online with malicious intent. Those accounts from those outlets were back online as of midday Saturday.
When Musk polled Twitter users about lifting the suspensions, nearly 60% of respondents supported their immediate reversal. “The people have spoken,” he tweeted.
Twitter did not immediately response to a request for comment on whether the journalists were reinstated because of the online poll results.
However, Musk’s explanations may not tell the full story. The central conflict seemed to be over Jack Sweeney’s Twitter account @ElonJet, which tracks the whereabouts of Musk’s private jet using publicly available information. His account was banned after Twitter revised its policies this week to suspend accounts that share an “individual’s live location.”
Some of the journalists reporting about @ElonJet and the rule changes were among the accounts that had been suspended, and had linked Sweeney’s account on Twitter or other platforms. Sweeney’s accounts on Twitter are still banned.
Social media companies have been known to wrestle with content moderation policies, by convening committees, forming oversight boards, and drawing feedback from interest groups, among other moves. That doesn’t seem to be the case at Musk’s Twitter.
The new rules are the latest in a series of instances where Musk says one thing and then does another. Just six weeks ago, the executive promised he would not ban @ElonJet because of his “commitment to free speech.” When he took over Twitter, he vowed to form “a content moderation council” with diverse viewpoints before Twitter made any major content policy decisions. That didn’t happen—and the social media site reinstated thousands of accounts which had been banned for violating content standards.
“Twitter usage (by real humans) once again reaches all-time highs,” he wrote on Friday.
The problem is if your only North Star is to generate constant heat and outrage: While it may spark a rise in Twitter usage over the short run, users may eventually grow tired of the drama.
Write to Tae Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org