I Speak Fluent ‘New Social Media CEO Who’s In Over Their Head’; Let Me Translate The Last Few Days Of Twitter Policy
from the the-pathetic-autocrat-edition dept
The last few days on Twitter have been, well, chaotic, I guess? Beyond the blocking of the ElonJet account, followed by the blocking of the @JoinMastodon account, then the blocking of journalists asking about all this and the silly made up defense of it, over the weekend, Twitter announced a new policy banning linking to or even displaying usernames on a whole host of other social media platforms:
The new “promotion of alternative social platforms policy,” which was quite obviously hastily crafted, said that “Twitter will no longer allow free promotion of specific social media platforms on Twitter.” It said that “at both the Tweet level and the account level, we will remove any free promotion of prohibited 3rd-party social media platforms, such as linking out … to any of the below platforms on Twitter, or providing your handle without a URL.
The “prohibited platforms” list had some odd inclusions, and even odder exclusions:
- Facebook, Instagram, Mastodon, Truth Social, Tribel, Post and Nostr
- 3rd-party social media link aggregators such as linktr.ee, lnk.bio
This is… desperate? Silly?
But it also raised questions. Where was TikTok? Or YouTube? Or Gab? Or Parler? Or a bunch of other small new wannabes? You could say they’re too small, but then again, he included Nostr, a social media protocol that is brand new and has basically zero features. I have personally been playing with it, but I think only about 500 people are currently using it. Maybe. Probably fewer.
Of course, as usual, Musk’s biggest fans immediately started crafting silly breathless defenses of how this was totally consistent with Musk’s claims of bringing his “free speech absolutism” to the platform. Most of these defenses were pathetic. Perhaps none more so than his mother’s.
That’s Elon’s mom saying that his new proposal “makes absolute sense” because “when I give a talk for a corporation, I don’t promote other corporations. If I did, I would be fired on the spot and never booked again? Is that hard to understand?”
I mean, that is not hard to understand, but it’s also not an accurate description of the scenario. The people using Twitter are not paid to give talks “for Twitter.” And, if that were the standard, then, um, that wouldn’t just justify Twitter’s old practices of banning accounts for lots of things that any company would fire you for saying during a “company talk,” but actually make you wonder why Twitter didn’t ban a hell of a lot more people.
But, of course, that’s not the standard. Or the scenario.
And then, of course, a few hours later, Musk (facing pretty loud criticism of this latest policy change) appeared to do an about-face, though you’d have to be following him closely to actually realize it. First he defended it, saying “Twitter should be easy to use, but no more relentless free advertising of competitors. No traditional publisher allows this and neither will Twitter.”
Except that’s also not true. First of all, every other social media platform absolutely allows accounts to link to alternative social media. Second, even “traditional publishers” frequently will link to accounts on alternative social media and they will also (not always, but increasingly) acknowledge competing media providers.
Then he made it more vague saying “casually sharing occasional links is fine, but no more relentless advertising of competitors for free, which is absurd in the extreme.”
Which is not a reasonable policy. Because how does anyone know when they’ve cross that line? Either way, as anyone who works in this space knows, if you have a vague policy like “casually sharing occasional links is fine” while the written policy says no links, you’re going to end up in ridiculous situations, such as when famed startup investor/Musk fan/pontificator Paul Graham pointed out that the policy was so dumb he was leaving for Mastodon… and promptly got banned, leading Musk to promise to have the account restored.
Eventually, in a reply to an account known for posting nonsense conspiracy theories, Musk said that the “policy will be adjusted to suspending accounts only when that account’s *primary* purpose is promotion of competitors, which essentially falls under the no spam rule.”
After that, he posted a poll asking whether he should step down as CEO of Twitter. He lost, 57.5% to 42.5% (though as I’m writing, he’s not said anything further on the results, but I full expect that he’s going to shove someone else into the role while still owning and controlling the company).
The TwitterSafety account also ran a poll asking “should we have a policy preventing the creation of or use of existing accounts for the main purpose of advertising other social media platforms”, and while the poll still has a few hours left as I write this, it seems people are almost universally against it:
So, despite Elon arguing that not having such a policy is “absurd in the extreme” and his mother insisting that such a policy “makes absolute sense,” the “vox populi” on Twitter disagrees.
Why is he doing all this? What is going on?
It seems that I have a bit of experience understanding how new social media CEOs who come in on a wave of “bringing free speech back!” promises end up running the social media content moderation learning curve. Thus, I thought it might be useful to explain the basic thought process that normally one goes through here, and that likely created each of these results. It’s basically the same as how Parler’s then CEO John Matze went from “our content is moderated based off the FCC and the Supreme Court” to “posting pictures of your fecal matter in the comment section WILL NOT BE TOLERATED” in a matter of days.
Basically, it’s exactly what I wrote in my speed run article. These naive social media CEOs come in, thinking that the thing “missing” from social media is “free speech.” But they’re wrong. Even if you strongly believe in “free speech” (as I do), that doesn’t mean you want to allow crazy assholes screaming insults at guests in your house. You ask those people to leave, so that your guests can feel welcome. That doesn’t mean you’re against free speech, you’re just saying “go be a crazy asshole somewhere else.”
Every “free speech” CEO eventually realizes this in some form or another. In Musk’s somewhat selfish view of the world, he only seems to notice the concerns when it comes to himself. While he’s had no problem encouraging brigading and harassing of those he dislikes, when a random crazy person showed up near a car with his child in it, he insisted (falsely, as we now know) that it was an account on his website that put him in danger, and banned it.
But, of course, reporters are going to report on it, and in that frenzied state of “this is bad, must be stopped,” he immediately jumped to “well, anyone talking about that account must also be bad, and obviously should also be stopped.”
The “links to other social media” freakout was likely related to all of this as well. First people were linking to the ElonJet account on other social media (which Musk referred to — incorrectly — as “ban evasion”) and so he saw social media as a sneaky tool for getting around his paradise view of how Twitter should work. Also, while there’s no confirmation on this point from Twitter’s numbers, it sure feels like these other social media sites are getting a nice inflow of users giving up on (or at least decreasing their usage of) Twitter.
The biggest beneficiary (by far) seems to be Mastodon, so Musk could view this as a “kill two birds with one stone” move: trying to blunt Mastodon’s growth while also (in his mind) stopping people from visiting the “dangerous” ElonJet account on Mastodon. Except, of course, the opposite of that occurred, and he created a sort of Streisand Effect bump for Mastodon users:
See those bumps in new signups? Those are Elon bumps. Each time he does something crazy, more people sign up.
So, based on that, Elon quickly started banning reporters who he disliked and who were asking what he saw as sketchy questions, and then tried to retcon policies to justify those bans. First it was the nonsense about “assassination coordinates” and then it became about links to social media. Reporter Taylor Lorenz got accused of both. Elon first claimed that her account was suspended for doxing someone “previously” in her reporting (which is something Lorenz-haters have falsely insisted she did). But Twitter directly told Lorenz she was banned for a tweet showing her accounts on other sites:
This is how tyrants rule when they want to pretend they’re ruling by principles. Punish those who oppose you, and then retcon in some kind of policy later, which you insist is an “obviously” good policy, to justify the bans.
Of course, in the old days, when Twitter had a thoughtful trust & safety team, at least they’d make some effort to game out new policies. They’d discuss how those policies might lead to bad outcomes, or how they might be confusing, or how they might be abused. But Elon and friends have no time for that. They need to ban people who upset him, and come up with the policies to justify it later.
That’s how you end up with the stupidly broad “no doxing” policy and the even dumber “no other social media” policy — and only then do they discover the problems of the policies, and try to adjust them on the fly.
There are two other facts here worth noting, and both apply to a very typical pattern found in authoritarians taking over governments while preaching about how they’re “bringing freedom back.”
First, they often will lie about the oppression that they claim happened under the last regime. That’s absolutely been the case here. As the Twitter files actually showed, Twitter’s former regime was not a bunch of “woke radicals censoring conservatives.” They were a thoughtful group of people doing an impossible task with not nearly enough resources, time, or information. As such, sometimes they made mistakes. But on the whole they were trying to create reasonable policies. This is why all evidence, across multiple studies, showed that Twitter actually bent over backwards to not be biased against conservatives, but Trumpists still insisted it was “obvious” that they were moderating based on bias.
The usefulness for the people now in charge, though, is that they feel they have free rein to do what they (falsely) insisted the previous regime was doing. You see it among many Musk fans now (including some high profile ones who should know better *cough* Marc Andreessen *cough*), who are mocking anyone pointing out the nonsense justifications and hypocrisy of Musk’s new policies, which clearly violate his old stated plans for the site. The people justifying this say, mockingly, “oooooooh, look who’s suddenly supportive of free speech.” The more vile version of this is “oh, well how does it feel now that you’re on the other end?” The more direct version is just “well, you did it to us.”
Except all of that is bullshit. Because people talking about it aren’t screaming about “free speech,” so much as pointing out how Musk is going back on his word. A thoughtful commentator might realize that maybe there were good reasons for older decisions, and it wasn’t just “woke suppression of free speech.” But, instead, they justify their new actions based on it being okay because of the falsely believed cruelty of the previous regime.
Second, this is pretty common with “revolutionaries” promising freedom. When they discover that freedom also allows people to oppose the new leader, those “disloyal” to the new regime need to be put down and silenced. In their minds, they justify it, because the ends (“eventual freedom”) justify the means of getting there. So, yes, the king must kill the protestors, but it’s only because those protestors might ruin this finely planned journey to more freedom.
So, in the mind of the despot who wants to believe they’re bringing a “better world of freedom” to the public, it’s okay to deny that freedom to the agitators and troublemakers, because they’re the ones “standing in the way” of freedom to the wider populace.
It seems like some of both of those factors are showing up here.