Twitter under one person’s control scares online security experts

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Social media industry security experts and outside experts, who have spent years slowing the empowerment of tyrants and violent gangs by Facebook and other platforms, say there are so many limits on what can be posted on the site that a second large company comes under only one person’s control, especially someone who complains on Twitter. there is.

Billionaire Elon Musk, in his tweets and speech that followed his surprise bid to keep Twitter private last week, condemned the decision to ban some users as censorship and censorship. said moderation blunts the spread Legal but offensive content goes too far. “If it’s a gray area, let the tweet exist,” Musk said on Thursday.

Such comments are alarming to those who experience that unrestrained conversation renders social media platforms unusable, and that lightly controlled conversation leads thousands of people to make versions of the same point, which is then powered by algorithms designed to maximize engagement and therefore increase ad dollars.

“This is a disaster and it’s not just about Elon Musk, it’s putting him on steroids,” said Shoshana Zuboff, professor emeritus at Harvard Business School and author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. Money from the collection of data on human behavior is the lifeblood of a new and hitherto almost unregulated age.

Zuboff argues that social media companies like Facebook and Twitter collect as much data about users as possible and then try to maximize their time on the site because it makes them money. But he argues that the platforms are not neutral. When directing users online, they change not only arguments but also beliefs and even physical actions, encouraging people to do what they would not otherwise do, such as attending real-world protests.

It’s bad enough to put that much power in the hands of a single company, but putting it in the hands of one person, as is largely the case with Facebook shareholder Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter was owned by Musk, is incompatible with putting that power in the hands of a single person. democracy, said Zuboff.

“There is no check and balance by any internal or external force,” he said in an interview. Like Zuckerberg, Musk a little Aggregated data about people and the ability to use them to manipulate are “incomparable to anything that has ever existed and allow interference with the integrity of individual behavior as well as the integrity of collective behavior”.

“Zuckerberg sits at his celestial keyboard and can decide from day to day, hour to hour, whether people will be less angry, whether the broadcasts will survive.”

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment. Musk did not respond to questions sent via email. At the very least, Zuckerberg has a board of directors and the Securities and Exchange Commission that will look after the interests of shareholders. A private Twitter owned by Musk isn’t even required to have it.

Zuboff thinks that in the next decade brand-new institutions must be introduced to manage knowledge spaces. Behind the controversy over Musk’s bid to buy Twitter is an ongoing debate over whether tech executives already have too much control over online conversation.

If Musk takes control of Twitter, that could put pressure on American policymakers to regulate social media companies, former officials. He told the Washington Post.

Bill Baer, ​​a visiting professor at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said that a person with “almost monopoly control” over a social network can only raise these concerns among policymakers.

“The fact that a single person with an unforeseen commodity would have control of such an important communications platform would probably make a lot of people nervous,” said Baer, ​​who previously led antitrust enforcement at the Federal Trade Commission and Justice. Department.

In interviews, former Democratic regulators and anti-monopoly advocates said Musk’s bid to buy Twitter underlined the need for Congress to pass laws governing the Internet. Tom Wheeler, former head of the Federal Communications Commission, said Musk has taken steps that highlight the need to create a new regulator to oversee the tech industry.

“What we need is a process that respects a First Amendment where the government does not dictate content, but causes an acceptable code of conduct,” Wheeler said.

Even professionals who think social media is a net good deed say Twitter will be terrible for users and investors alike, as Musk predicted. The past few years have led to any number of Twitter knockouts that appeal to those stunned by the original, including Gab and Parler, but none have been successful in the mainstream.

This is no coincidence, said Alicia Wanless, director of the Partnership Against Impact Operations at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace in Washington. People want ground rules so that they avoid a nightclub that condone casual violence.

“Musk could buy Twitter and try to bring it back to the nostalgic lost Paradise of the early days of the Internet, but platforms with the lowest community standards like Gab don’t quite rank because it’s not doing a good job,” Wanless said.

Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation Helping protect global rights activists from government hacking and ordinary people from local stalking, Dr.

“I am particularly concerned about the impact of the full ownership of someone who has repeatedly proven that they do not understand the realities of large-scale content moderation,” he added.

Galperin supported Musk’s idea of ​​allowing anything legal, stating, “Twitter’s content moderation practices leave a lot to be desired, but they tried policies that Musk seemed to support more than a decade ago and they didn’t work.”

Civil rights activists said a moderate withdrawal would disproportionately harm women, minorities and anyone else not in favor of the establishment. “Without the rules of the road, we will be at a loss,” said Rashad Robinson, president of the racial justice group Color of Change. “Our protections cannot be at the whims of billionaires.”

Addressing Russian disinformation on this platform during the 2016 elections, former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos said that Musk perceived Twitter as a public space for many people’s freedom of expression, detached from reality, and did not accept it. would give more power to the strongest.

Without restraint, Stamos says, “anyone who expresses an opinion is subject to all manner of everyday insults, from threats to death and rape. That’s the foundation of the internet. If you want people to be able to interact, you need to have ground rules.”

“When you speak of a square, it is an imperfect analogy. In this case, the Twitter town square contains hundreds of millions of people who can supposedly interact anonymously from hundreds of miles away. A Russian troll farm could invent hundreds of people to show up in the town square.”

“The algorithm decides who gets heard,” added Claire Wardle, a Brown University professor who studies misinformation and social media moderation policies. According to Wardle, Musk sounds like he was speaking before the 2016 election, when the scope of foreign misinformation campaigns in the country shocked users and experts alike, and accelerated more sophisticated moderation efforts that are still far behind their targets even now.

“We were very naive because we didn’t understand how these platforms were weaponized,” Wardle said. “The idea of ​​going back to where we left off is a disaster.” But critics noted that the entrepreneur was in line with documented disdain for regulations and regulators, whether they were related to labor, auto safety or the stock market.

Some Republicans applauded Musk as part of his arguments that Twitter, the first platform to ban President Donald Trump after the January 6 attack on the Capitol, was unfair to conservatives.

But a successful takeover could make new regulations from Washington more likely amid a broader effort. to rein in big tech companies. “Strengthening oversight is not the way to protect democracy and improve freedom of expression,” said Samir Jain, policy director at the Center for Democracy and Technology. “It will further raise concerns people have about the extent to which these companies influence our discourse.”

Baer said that if Twitter were taken privately, its policies and decisions would become less transparent to policymakers and the general public, posing additional challenges for tech companies to grapple with their role.

Last year, Facebook whistleblowers filed a complaint with the SEC, alleging that the company misled investors in its efforts to handle misinformation and accounts linked to Russia-backed rebels fighting in Ukraine. But such challenges would not have been possible on Twitter if the platform had been privately controlled.

“There will be less public disclosure, less independent auditing,” Baer said. “If managed by only one person, the independent directors or individual shareholders on the board will not have the ability to challenge or shape Twitter’s behavior.”

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