Twitter CEO Elon Musk has decided to offer “general amnesty” to suspended accounts starting next week — a gentler way of saying that he’s decided to welcome back some of the site’s worst and most toxic people. It’s the second major moderation decision he’s made since taking over after unbanning former President Donald Trump; both decisions were made after Musk ran an informal poll from his personal Twitter account.
The decision to reverse years of moderation work at Twitter effectively trashes Musk’s original promise: to create a diverse council that would help adjudicate serious moderation decisions. Musk backed away from that idea by later blaming “political/social activist groups” for breaking an alleged “deal” — a claim nobody has verified and that advertisers deny. Twitter has spent many hard-earned years clipping users from the service, and many of the bans it has issued have been related to horrendous abuse, harassment, and misinformation.
The poll was a blowout, with 72.4% of respondents voting “yes” toward unbanning accounts, from a pool of slightly more than 3 million votes. It’s difficult to know who voted, but it’s worth remembering that Musk spent a long time trying to get out of buying Twitter based on claims that the service was filled with bots and inauthentic accounts.
It’s still not clear which accounts will be allowed back. Musk said accounts that have “broken the law or engaged in egregious spam” would not be granted “amnesty”. But doing something illegal is an extremely high bar for moderation since most people don’t break the law by simply being awful people. Even Musk has expressed some bare-minimum standards beyond breaking the law; while he has spent a lot of time engaging with right-wing complaints, he has signaled opposition to the idea of letting someone like Alex Jones back on his website.
Nonetheless, a blanket restoration of most suspended accounts will likely have immense and widespread unintended consequences — particularly in regions where Twitter’s moderation and compliance capacities have been eviscerated by the company’s new leader.
Elon Musk began his Twitter reign by declaring that “comedy is legal.” Now it seems like almost anything goes.