Elon Musk has indicated that Twitter could be split into different strands where users give their posts content ratings and stage online rows in a specially created space on the platform.
The world’s richest man moved to assuage concerns about a rise in harmful content under his ownership on Friday by announcing the creation of a content moderation council.
Musk bought Twitter for $44bn last week, giving him control of an influential social media business with more than 230 million users.
However, Musk then said on Twitter that a “better idea” than the council might be to separate the platform into different strands. He also backed a user’s suggestion that the service splits into different video game-style modes, including a “player versus player” version where verified accounts can hold Twitter spats.
A Twitter user tweeted Musk on Friday that the Oversight Board established by the owner of Facebook and Instagram was a “losing game” because it did not satisfy people on the right or left of the political spectrum. In reply, Musk wrote that a “better idea” might be to select a version of Twitter in the style of choosing a film based on its content rating.
He wrote: “Being able to select which version of Twitter you want is probably better, much as it would be for a movie maturity rating.”
Musk added that that rating of a user’s tweet could be self-selected and then “modified by user feedback”.
Musk also responded positively to a tweet suggesting that the platform has different modes as in video gaming. A user said the platform could have a PvP (player versus player) mode “where you can start beef and mob each other on verified personal accounts”, then a “roleplaying” mode for anonymous accounts with minimal moderation and a heavily moderated “normal Twitter” for everyone else.
Musk wrote that “something like this makes sense”, having indicated that he was examining such a strategy last week. In a message to Twitter advertisers on Thursday, Musk said a user should be able to “choose your desired experience according to your preferences”.
Musk also indicated that he will examine the case of Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychologist and author, who was suspended from Twitter after violating the platform’s content policies with a tweet about transgender actor Elliot Page.
Responding to a tweet from Peterson’s daughter calling for her father to be reinstated, Musk wrote: “Anyone suspended for minor & dubious reasons will be freed from Twitter jail.”
The New York Times reported on Friday that Musk has set up a “war room” at the company to scrutinise his new purchase, while employees at his Tesla business and trusted aides also met Twitter staff. Alex Spiro, Musk’s personal attorney, discussed content moderation and legal issues with Twitter workers, according to the NYT.
The Oversight Board of Meta, a body of experts set up by Facebook and Instagram’s parent to make binding verdicts on content decisions, said it would “welcome” a discussion with Twitter about its plans.
“We would welcome the opportunity to discuss Twitter’s plans in more detail with the company.”
A rival body, the Real Facebook Oversight Board, warned that Musk’s goal with his moderation council was to “create the appearance of oversight without ceding any real power”.
Thierry Breton, the European commissioner for the internal market, responded to Musk’s takeover on Friday by tweeting that the platform “will fly by our rules” – in a reference to the EU’s Digital Services Act, which requires online platforms to tackle illegal content such as hate speech.
Seyi Akiwowo, the head of Glitch, a UK-based charity that campaigns against online abuse, said the removal by Musk of Twitter’s head of safety, Vijaya Gadde, was a blow. She tweeted: “I am very concerned that the progress Twitter has finally made on safety over the last 6 years will unravel in the next few weeks.”
Beeban Kidron, the UK crossbench peer and internet safety campaigner, said: “One man having this much power to set the terms of a global conversation does not constitute free speech.”
She added that accounts with large numbers of followers or the potential to go viral with their posts should be held to even tougher standards. “Twitter needs to have very clear community rules for all users that are routinely upheld, but larger accounts and those with the greatest vitality should be held to a higher standard,” she said. “Material delivered at vast scale is broadcasting, and pretending otherwise is yet another example of tech sector’s bogus claim of exceptionality.”
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