Elon Musk’s Twitter faces call to boycott ads from civil rights groups

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Earlier this month, dozens of civil rights groups advised major brands and marketing agencies to suspend advertising on Twitter unless CEO Elon Musk offered serious assurances that he would protect users. vulnerable to a flood of harassment and hate speech. Today, those same groups are renewing their call for companies to cut ties with the platform, saying the site’s billionaire owner has already backtracked on promises he made in person just weeks ago. .

A coalition of more than 60 organizations, led by Accountable Tech, Free Press and Media Matters for America, is actively urging advertisers to withdraw their dollars from Twitter or continue away from it due to Musk’s recent decisions and announcements that seem green light hate speech on the platform.

The groups behind the call include the Center for Countering Digital Hate, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Center on Race and Digital Justice, Muslims Advocates and the NAACP, among more than 60 others. The groups say they met with Musk earlier this month and that, while a number of commitments were made, they were quickly broken – including the fact that Musk fired around half of Twitter’s staff ahead of the election. mid-term of 2022.

Although Musk remains defiant, the campaign, known as #StopToxicTwitter, seems to be working in one respect. More than a third of Twitter’s top 100 advertisers have stopped promoting on the platform in the past two weeks, according to Washington Post analysis published Tuesday.

Twitter could not be reached for comment as it has no communication service.

Donald Trump’s restoration, suspended in 2021 after instigating a deadly insurgency against the US government, appears to have been a breaking point for many digital and civil rights groups who had sought assurances from Musk. The revival of @realDonaldTrump has exacerbated problems stemming from the mass exodus of software engineers and other high-level employees previously responsible for countering misinformation, hate and extremism on Twitter, the groups said.

“Unless and until Musk can be trusted to uphold Twitter’s prior Community Standards, the platform is not safe for users or advertisers,” the coalition said Monday. groups. “For those who are still advertising on Twitter right now: know that you are directly contributing to a billionaire’s erratic decimation of Twitter and its rapid transformation into utter chaos.”

In an email on Tuesday, the civil rights coalition said the “turmoil” on Twitter had also had “global ramifications”, adding that the social network’s failure to stave off threats against human rights abuses man now poses “a dangerous threat to advocates and dissidents” around the world. the world.

“At a time when the internet is increasingly weaponized to attack black people and destroy our social and political rights, Musk’s takeover of Twitter threatens our safety in the virtual and physical worlds,” the national advocacy group said. Civil Rights Color of Change. example, wrote in a letter to advertisers shortly after Musk’s shooting.

The group, which has joined others in demanding a “robust and transparent” content moderation process that protects users from hate-motivated slurs and harassment of people of color and the LGBTQ+ community, said suing advertisers was a powerful tactic, as Musk will surely be required to keep companies “happy” if he is ever to repay the billions in debt he incurred buying the platform.

The coalition’s campaign ramp-up also comes in the wake of a mass shooting at an LGBTQ club in Colorado, which spurred harassment of LGBTQ people on Twitter, particularly transgender users. The attacks add to a steady stream of malicious slander from right-wing political figures who, week after week, relentlessly deliver real threats and violence to communities across the United States without a trace of sympathy or concern.

While there have been no textual changes to Twitter’s policies – which continue to state, for example, that users are prohibited from inciting fear or spreading frightening stereotypes about people in based on their race, gender or sexual orientation – Musk clarified on Friday that those engaged in this conduct would not have their accounts suspended. Instead, the SpaceX and Tesla owner said, users targeting others with hate and discrimination would have their tweets automatically demoted.

“Twitter’s new policy is freedom of speech,” Musk said, “but not freedom of access.”

The claim that Twitter will “unbox” extremism and hate speech on the platform is highly questionable, especially since to do so competently would involve deploying technology that, at present, does not seem not exist. Social media companies with more capital to burn than Twitter have struggled unsuccessfully for more than a decade to develop algorithms capable of automating hate speech detection. While these companies have often touted their successes in the press, researchers who continually study trends in online extremism say the problem remains endemic and unmitigated, and is, by most accounts, accelerating.

Meta, a competitor with ten times the staff of Twitter, for example, has spent veritable fortunes trying to tackle the problem of hate speech over the past decade, striving to actually accomplish what Musk dubiously claims that he will soon succeed in doing so. Despite years of research and millions of hours of dedicated work, leaked documents shared by whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed that Facebook moderators had only successfully taken action “against about 2% of hate speech on the platform” according to the company’s own assessment. The content standards, a Facebook researcher noted in an internal document, “are very complicated and difficult to apply consistently,” adding, “Hate speech often involves very subtle nuances, and it’s easy to both of missing things and getting false positives.” By contrast, Musk has shown little appetite for such niceties.

Also, the idea that hate speech will be downgraded – that is, made invisible on certain feeds or in search – does not seem to address the abuse experienced by the actual users targeted. In practice, demoting hate speech rather than penalizing those who engage in it only prevents bystanders from witnessing it. Users harassed and threatens, meanwhile, experience few benefits; their abuse is now just happens out of sight.

Like Gizmodo reported, Musk’s botched effort to turn blue “checkmarks” into a revenue stream has given several well-known hate groups access to a “verification” system once used to guard against celebrity, brand, and other impersonators. government officials, among others. The anti-transgender accounts of Gays Against Groomers and Libs of TikTok are among thosecurrently sporting the badges.

The badges are also now worn by several prominent white supremacists, including alt-right figure Richard Spencer, as well as Jason Kessler, organizer of the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, where a 32-year-old paralegal protesting neo-Nazis was been assassinated.

The murders of five persons by a man with an AR-15 rifle on Saturday at a gay Colorado nightclub popular for its drag shows sparked deep-seated fears of violence amid a wave of anti-transgender hate spearheaded by Republican politicians and public figures conservative media. And Musk’s own decision to hand a megaphone to some of the most high-profile figures behind the anti-trans campaign – inspiring a flood of violent threats targeting, among others, doctors at children’s hospitals who offer health programs affirming the genre – betrayed a foolish and reckless mentality of the new owner of the platform.

While referencing the shooting in Colorado Springs on Tuesday, conservative columnist Kurt Schlichter smeared the nightclub’s patrons on Twitter, telling his followers, “I don’t think we should have to tolerate pedophiles. because some asshole shot a gay bar. Using the term “pedophiles” as an insult, Schlichter’s supporters echoed in responses that transgender people shouldn’t be allowed to exist.

Schlichter was joined by far-right Youtuber Tim Pool, who used his Twitter account to fabricate conspiracy theories about the bar, Club Q, where Colorado Springs families once gathered on Sunday brunch to watch movies. drag performers tell jokes and imitate singers like Madonna and Cher. Apparently fearing no consequences under Musk’s new leadership, Pool accused the LGBTQ establishment of staging a “grooming event”, setting children up for sexual abuse.

“Twitter under Elon Musk backtracked on his assurance that he would not make any major changes to moderating content or reinstating suspended accounts without a moderation advisory board,” said Alejandra Caraballo, clinical instructor at the Cyberlaw Clinic. from Harvard Law School, to Gizmodo, adding that Musk had made “false promises” to deploy moderation techniques that are “unfeasible or nearly impossible.”

“On Trans Memorial Day after the murder of 5 LGBTQ people in Colorado, Twitter reinstated several anti-LGBTQ accounts while greenlighting vicious anti-LGBTQ rhetoric such as the groomer libel,” Caraballo said. “Clearly advertisers need to remove their ads from Twitter and Apple needs to step in and revoke Twitter from the App Store before more violence is incited.”

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