Elon Musk’s Twitter has a new rule for everyone with an account on Twitter to follow, as he announced from his own account: “any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying ‘parody’ will be permanently suspended.” In a follow-up tweet, Musk said “Previously, we issued a warning before suspension, but now that we are rolling out widespread verification, there will be no warning.”
It’s an abrupt update from the person who just a few days ago tweeted, “Comedy is now legal on Twitter” after taking control of the company. Comedy is legal — as long as it follows the rules, which are whatever Elon says they are and could change at any time.
Ever since Musk promised his Twitter would bring “power to the people” by offering verification to anyone willing to pay $8 for a subscription, some owners of already verified accounts have been renaming themselves Elon Musk, highlighting the issue of a verification system that doesn’t actually check who controls an account. Comedians Kathy Griffin and Sarah Silverman are among the accounts already known to be locked or suspended as a result.
Twitter’s existing policies already contain a section covering “parody, commentary, and fan accounts.” As Musk’s later tweets clarified, the plan is to go with the heaviest penalty on the first offense, skipping the first two levels of enforcement listed on the current impersonation and deceptive identities policy:
If your account is potentially confusing in terms of its affiliation, we may require you to edit the content on your profile. If you violate this policy again after your first warning, your account will be permanently suspended.
Temporary account suspension
If we believe you may be in violation of this policy, we may require you to provide government issued identification (such as a driver’s license or passport) in order to reinstate your account.
If you are engaged in impersonation or are using a misleading or deceptive fake identity, we may permanently suspend your account.
Despite his earlier statement that no major content decisions would come down until Twitter put together a content moderation council to vote on them, the service’s new owner has made this ruling, apparently, all by himself. The Twitter Terms of Service don’t reflect any new rule changes, and Twitter has not responded to an inquiry from The Verge about how its policies have changed.
While we wait to see how the masses respond to this policy adjustment, it’s worth recalling this bit of advice from Nilay Patel on the place where Musk now finds himself:
The problem when the asset is people is that people are intensely complicated, and trying to regulate how people behave is historically a miserable experience, especially when that authority is vested in a single powerful individual.
What I mean is that you are now the King of Twitter, and people think that you, personally, are responsible for everything that happens on Twitter now. It also turns out that absolute monarchs usually get murdered when shit goes sideways.
Update November 6th, 6:58PM ET: Added follow-up tweets from Musk.