Elon Musk’s mass layoffs at Twitter on Friday, barely a week after he acquired the company, should serve as an all-but-literal announcement: Whatever assurances he offers to the contrary, he may in fact plan to open the content floodgates to the worst in hate speech and toxic disinformation. Why else would the layoffs include gutting the very personnel whose jobs were to weed out the worst offenders?
A pause by major advertisers is a good first shot across Musk’s bow on this issue. An even better one would be if top users like Barack Obama, Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey threatened to leave with their many millions of followers unless Musk behaves responsibly with this influential platform.
The world’s richest person has approached his purchase and initial management of Twitter with typical chaos. Musk offered, then attempted to withdraw, a wildly overpriced bid of $44 billion, before the threat of litigation forced him to go through with the deal. Long a critic of Twitter’s moderation policies, he has tried to assure civil rights organizations he would continue responsibly moderating content. Yet the company itself acknowledged that his purchase spawned a surge in hateful posts from right-wing swamp-dwellers testing the new boundaries.