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Civil rights groups aren't buying into the Elon Musk-Twitter hype

Failing to curb hate speech "will put human lives at risk," NAACP President Derrick Johnson warned.


Twitter CEO Elon Musk met with civil rights groups Tuesday in an apparent effort to assuage concerns among their members about the rise in hate speech on the social media platform since he took the helm last week.  

And several of them, after the meeting, seemed justifiably skeptical that Musk, the world's wealthiest person and a notoriously reckless Twitter troll, will actually take the necessary steps to significantly curb harmful speech on the site.

The skepticism is warranted. Aside from Musk’s personal history of engaging in online harassment, the widespread allegations of overt racism at some of his Tesla plants are enough to stoke concerns — as are his repeated, public demonstrations of support for authoritarian leaders and governments

After Tuesday’s meeting, Color of Change President Rashad Robinson said he and other leaders in attendance got the Twitter head to restore content moderation systems he had vowed to suspend last week.

But Robinson's statement amounted to a textual side eye:

“Misinformation, disinformation, hateful rhetoric, online harassment and other results of an almost entirely unregulated tech sector are not just abstract principles or debates — they are matters of life and death, safety and harm, freedom and oppression,” he said. “We will continue to hold Musk accountable to the evidence of Twitter’s negative impact on Black people and our freedoms, even as his many cheerleaders try to deny them.”

In a tweet after the meeting, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said that he was “cautiously optimistic” about Twitter’s future, but that “actions speak louder than words.” 

Johnson didn’t leave the meeting with glowing things to say about Musk’s operation, either. 

In a statement, he said, “Taking the necessary actions is not rocket science, but failing to do so will put human lives at risk and further unravel our democracy.”

(Nice “rocket” reference there, given Musk is a self-styled leader in space travel.)

Johnson said he’s concerned about Twitter’s influence on the midterm elections first and foremost. 

“Any content (or account) promoting election denial and other harmful lies about election results cannot be allowed to exist on his platform,” he said. “As long as hate, misinformation, and disinformation spread across Twitter, the bird cannot be free.”

Musk announced several of the meeting’s attendees on Twitter, where he’s tried to weather a storm of mockery and bad press concerning his early decisions at the company. 

As some users were vowing to leave the site and others were theorizing about the abusive voices he may allow back on to the platform, Musk released a seemingly desperate letter assuring advertisers he wouldn’t be setting their money on fire by promoting content on a miserable product. 

“Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences!” he wrote.

Personally, I’m convinced it can and it will. 

Nonetheless, Musk has also been mocked for a proposal to charge $8 for users to visibly verify their accounts — a service that’s long been free. And that proposal came after he was mocked for suggesting the price be set at $20. 

Clearly, things are off to a rough start for Musk. And there’s a belief among some tech enthusiasts that things won’t get much better for him

Nonetheless, don’t underestimate Twitter’s potential influence and its potential to do damage. The nation’s top civil rights organizations certainly aren’t.