Earlier this week, Twitter’s board of directors accepted Elon Musk’s $44 billion offer ($54.20/share) to purchase the company and take it private. In a statement, Musk explained his aspirational hopes for the social media giant: “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated… Twitter has tremendous potential, and I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it.”
It’s clear that Musk intends to change both Twitter’s policies and its culture. Here are five ways he can save Twitter from itself and promote a vibrant digital public square.
1. Clean House
Twitter’s internal culture is toxic, extremely woke, and hostile to American principles like free speech and free expression. It’s likely that Musk will receive enormous pushback from woke employees within the company—he already is. Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s top lawyer who was partially responsible for banning Donald Trump from the platform, reportedly cried in a meeting with Twitter staff last Monday. Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo publicly lashed out at Musk on Twitter. And even lower-level employees went on the attack: In a Twitter exchange with Musk, Connor Campbell, a Twitter engineer, insisted in a now-deleted tweet that the platform’s decision to censor the New York Post’s story about Hunter Biden’s laptop was not “targeted censorship” but instead the result of an equally-applied “hacked materials” policy.
The best way to solve this problem is, frankly, for Musk to fire a lot of people. He can start by disbanding Twitter’s “Trust and Safety Council” and reorienting the staff toward the goal of promoting true diversity, equity, and inclusion—of ideas. If Musk wants to “unlock” Twitter’s “tremendous potential,” he needs to have employees working for him that completely buy into his vision for the company.
2. Embrace the First Amendment
“Content moderation is hard,” Big Tech apparatchiks always insist. But it really isn’t. Musk has spoken a great deal about free speech and publicly wrestled with its meaning. Fortunately, we have a wonderful standard for free speech in this country—the First Amendment. Musk should create a First Amendment standard for content moderation at Twitter. If the speech is allowed on an American public sidewalk, it should be allowed on Twitter. This standard would give the platform the ability to remove the bad stuff, like violent videos, while also allowing the free marketplace of ideas to flourish.
If Musk wants to make a splash in announcing this new standard, he should announce that he is unbanning everyone—and I mean everyone—who violated Twitter’s previous policies. He can call it a one-time “amnesty” if he wants to appeal to liberal sensibilities. Bring back Donald Trump.
3. Get Rid of the Porn
Some libertarians might object to this proposal, protesting that porn is protected under the First Amendment and pointing to Reno v. ACLU. But as a social conservative, I’m used to the Supreme Court getting the Constitution egregiously wrong. And Twitter is a private company—it can do whatever it wants.
Twitter has a serious pornography problem, and for all the emphasis on content moderation, there was seemingly no effort to moderate it under the previous Twitter regime. Back in 2020, Haley McNamara of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation highlighted four problems with Twitter’s porn policies:
- Twitter has no way of knowing whether pornography on its platform is consensually produced.
- Marking pornography as “sensitive media” is a cop-out for allowing the worst, degrading content imaginable.
- Twitter does not allow “images depicting others as less than human” or “violent sexual conduct,” but that’s exactly what pornography is.
- Twitter is facilitating sex trafficking and prostitution.
The answer is obvious: Get rid of the pornography and make Twitter a better place—for men, for women, and for families.
4. Verify Everyone
Musk has spoken publicly about his desire to get rid of pseudonymous accounts. A better policy would be to give everyone the opportunity to be verified as a real human, and provide those accounts with a blue checkmark and all the algorithmic benefits that come with it.
Currently, Twitter has a caste system where approved people and opinions tend to enjoy algorithmic amplification. Journalists and political activists shouldn’t be granted a louder voice than police officers or rocket scientists. Everyone should have an equal opportunity to be heard.
5. Tell the World What Happened in 2020
Sen. Josh Hawley pointed this out in a letter to Musk right after the sale, and he's absolutely right—there needs to be an audit of Twitter's conduct around the 2020 election. If Twitter really wants to regain the trust of the American people, it has to be transparent about exactly what it did wrong in the first place. The most egregious example is obviously Twitter's suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story, but there are surely plenty of other cases of interference that were less blatant.
Conservatives who have expressed worries about shadow-banning and algorithmic manipulation have been dismissed for years by Big Tech-funded wonks as conspiracy theorists, and the company itself has usually chalked up seeming bias to the Inscrutable Ways of the Algorithm rather than human interference. But the crying engineers and middle-managers over at Twitter HQ clearly think they’re currently doing a lot of important work to nudge the public away from supposedly “toxic” political views, and it’s worth finding out exactly what they’re talking about.
Some conservatives have pointed out that the country is still in deep trouble if our ability to have meaningful political dialogue is dependent on the whims of ultra-billionaire oligarchs. That’s clearly true. But in the short term, this ultra-billionaire’s whims could do a lot to improve the health of public political debate. We shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. While we wait for Republicans in Congress to finally gin up the courage to fix the problem, there’s a lot that Elon Musk can do in the meantime to help.
Jon Schweppe is the director of policy and government affairs at American Principles Project.
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