The information in your Twitter feed is altering. Yet how?
By granting select journalists access to some of the company’s internal communications known as “The Twitter Files,” the social media platform’s new owner, Elon Musk, has been attempting to demonstrate that members of the previous leadership team are responsible for the purported suppression of right-wing voices.
This week, Musk dissolved the Trust and Safety Council, a significant advisory body made up of numerous independent civil rights, human rights, and other organisations. In order to address issues like hate speech, harassment, child exploitation, suicide, self-harm, and other issues on the platform, the company established the council in 2016.
What do the recent changes mean for the daily content that appears in your feed? One thing the actions indicate is that Musk wants to change how Twitter views the American political right. He is not promising unrestricted free speech, but rather a change in the messages that are amplified or obscured.
Late in October, Musk paid $44 billion to acquire Twitter. Since then, he has collaborated with a group of carefully chosen journalists, including former Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi and columnist Bari Weiss. They started tweeting about past actions taken by Twitter against accounts that were believed to have broken its content guidelines earlier this month. They’ve added screenshots of emails and message board posts that show internal Twitter discussions about those choices.
The authors “have broad and expanding access to Twitter’s files,” according to Weiss’ writing from December 8. The only requirement we agreed to was that the information be released on Twitter first.
With regard to the discussions that preceded Twitter’s decision to permanently suspend then-President Donald Trump’s account on January 8, 2021, “due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” following the deadly U.S. Capitol uprising two days earlier, Weiss published the fifth and most recent instalment on Monday. The internal communications reveal executives’ responses to a lobbying campaign from some employees calling for tougher action against Trump, and at least one unnamed employee appears to have questioned whether one of the tweets was an incitement to violence.
The internal deliberations regarding the majority right-wing Twitter accounts that the company determined violated its policies against hate speech and those that broke its policies against disseminating inaccurate information about COVID-19 are discussed in some detail in Musk’s Twitter Files.
The reports, however, are primarily based on anecdotes about a small number of prominent accounts, and the tweets don’t provide any information on the precise number of suspensions or which viewpoints were most likely to be impacted. The journalists have relied on Twitter executives to deliver other documents, even though they appear to have unrestricted access to the company’s public Slack messaging board.
In 2018, Twitter announced a new strategy to lessen the impact of disruptive users, or trolls, by reading “behavioural signals” that typically indicate when users are more interested in blowing up conversations than in contributing. This came after then-CEO Jack Dorsey said Twitter would focus on the “health” of conversations on the platform.
Twitter has long claimed that it uses a process internally referred to as “visibility filtering” to limit the reach of some accounts that may violate its policies but do not merit suspension. However, it denied claims that it “shadowbanned” conservative viewpoints covertly.