Elon Admits His Content Moderation Council Was Always A Sham To Keep Advertisers On The Site

Elon Admits His Content Moderation Council Was Always A Sham To Keep Advertisers On The Site


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Soon after Musk took over Twitter, he announced that no big content moderation changes would occur until after he had convened a “content moderation council” made up of “diverse” perspectives.

Never mind that Twitter had actually done that years earlier. Musk will reinvent anything and take credit for it if he can.

Of course, it always seemed obvious that this whole plan was bullshit, and he put an exclamation point on that last week with his silly poll to determine whether or not he should reinstate Donald Trump’s account. As we noted, the issue there was not so much the decision, but the process that showed how little Musk cared about the process, and simply was gunning for attention.

Now we’re learning a bit more about Musk’s canceled plans for the “council.” First, in meetings over the weekend he told Twitter employees that the council was always there just as cover for his own decisions, and he’d be the final arbiter of what stays up and what comes down:

“We are going to do a content council, but it’s an advisory council,” Musk said in the call. “It’s not a… They’re not the ones who actually… At the end of the day it will be me deciding, and like any pretense to the contrary is simply not true. Because obviously I could choose who’s on that content council and I don’t need to listen to what they say.”

You almost have to watch the video of the call that TMZ obtained, because he’s practically holding back the laughter noting how silly it was that anyone bought into the idea:

Again, this is exactly what I said in my earlier post about why this is both deeply ironic and simultaneously ridiculous. For years, tons of people have believed, falsely, that it was the CEOs of these social media companies making the final call on what stays up and what stays down. Yes, in the most extreme cases some issues may eventually be raised with the CEO, but for the most part, these companies put in place policies and enforcement procedures, and do their best. Yes, this frequently leads to mistakes, but it wasn’t Jack Dorsey saying “I don’t like this person’s views,” no matter how much the online outrage factory insisted that was the case.

Indeed, part of the reason those same folks got so excited about Musk taking over, was that they believed (falsely) that he was going to get rid of all the moderation and so they’d be “freed.” Instead, what they have is exactly what they falsely feared was happening before: an impulsive, moody, vindictive billionaire, enforcing his own personal views on moderation. It’s deeply ironic, but his supporters will never recognize that Musk is doing exactly what they falsely believed Dorsey was doing before.

It’s also deeply stupid, because no CEO should be engaged in such day to day decision making on content moderation questions. The flow of questions is absolutely overwhelming.

Finally, the claim he’s making that because he’ll pick who’s on the board, there’s no possible way it couldn’t be doing his whims suggests (yet again) his lack of knowledge for other approaches. I mean, it’s almost hilarious to see him stumble through this when Mark Zuckerberg spent a year and over $100 million to try to figure out a “fair” process to set up the Oversight Board in a manner that wouldn’t be seen as being a mere charade.

They did that with a clear charter and a binding agreement on certain (not enough!) decisions, careful interviewing of tons of potential members of the board, and a start where the initial four members of the board were chosen carefully to show a pretty balanced range of opinions, and then allowing those four members to choose future members, taking the issue out of Zuck’s hands.

And even then tons of people insisted that the whole thing was a charade to rubberstamp whatever Zuck wanted (which has not proven to be the case!). It seems clear Musk doesn’t know or doesn’t care about any of that.

All of this confirms what I said earlier — and what Twitter’s former head of trust & safety said in explaining why he quit — there is no principle behind Musk’s plans. It is entirely based on the whims of one man.

Then, to make it even dumber (because, yes, it can always get dumber). Elon explained on Twitter that he only announced the whole content moderation council thing to get activists off his back. In a tweet, he said that:

A large coalition of political/social activist groups agreed not to try to kill Twitter by starving us of advertising revenue if I agreed to this condition.

They broke the deal.

Except that’s complete bullshit, yet again. CNBC spoke to the various activists groups that Musk met with soon after taking over, and they say it’s absolutely bullshit.

Derrick Johnson, CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said in response to Musk’s claims on Tuesday that the civil rights groups “would never make such a deal” and that “Democracy always comes first.”

[….]

In a statement to CNBC, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and Free Press echoed Johnson’s sentiment and said there was “no such deal” with Musk.

“Musk is losing advertisers because he’s acted irresponsibly, slashing content moderation teams that help keep brands safe and gutting the very sales teams responsible for maintaining relationships with advertisers,” the Free Press said in a statement. “The main person responsible for the Twitter advertiser exodus is Elon Musk.

Musk simply cannot admit that his own fuckups scared away advertisers. I know of no activists that are trying “to kill Twitter by starving” the company of advertising revenue. Musk has all the power to get the advertisers back on board: stop fucking up. Stop making it unsafe for brands to have their ads on the site.

He’s refused to do that.

He’s repeatedly made moves that have encouraged the worst people to gleefully harass and abuse others. And he seems to take great joy in it. His decisions have caused the advertisers to pull back. The activists aren’t trying to kill Twitter. They’re trying to make it clear to Musk why he needs to actually do the right thing.

But Musk can’t accept the blame for his own fuckups, so he blames the activists (in earlier tweets, he threatened to sue them for “tortious interference” which would be a hilarious lawsuit that he’d lose in embarrassingly bad fashion). He could easily bring the advertisers back if he just stopped making the site inhospitable for them. And maybe didn’t fire all the sales folks who had the necessary relationships.

Of course, now his big idea to fix the trust and safety thing is…. to let the AI handle it. That’s from a huge, and very interesting Washington Post article that gives detail after detail about just how clueless Musk and his entourage are about content moderation, and how nearly the entire trust & safety team is gone. It also explains how they even had plans to do things like reinstate previously banned accounts with content warning labels (like has been done with politicians in the past), and Musk had endorsed that plan… before just ignoring it and simply reinstating the accounts he liked.

It’s all about the whims of a man who doesn’t care to understand the nuances and tradeoffs of what he’s doing and is incredibly prone to following random impulses.

But the biggest takeaway from the article is that he still seems to think that trust & safety can be automated:

Now, Musk is looking to automate much of the Trust and Safety team’s work to police content — eliminating some of the nuance from complicated decisions for acheaperapproach.

That will make anyone with any experience in any of this laugh. AI is a tool. And lots of trust & safety teams use it. But they use it in conjunction with a well trained staff and clear policies (indeed, that’s also some of how the AI learns). Without that, the AI makes tons of ridiculous mistakes. It’s not a solution that enables you to get rid of entire teams.

Meanwhile, stories like this are not going to bring advertisers back:

Virtually, the entire team dedicated to rooting out covert foreign influence operations was fired or quit, putting in jeopardy the company’s abilities to detect accounts including those attempting to influence U.S. politics.

It’s not the activists, Elon. You’re doing this to yourself.

Tech

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November 23, 2022 at 11:17AM

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