Twitter’s new owner, self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” Elon Musk, is about to take a crash course in global content moderation.

One of its first actions after completing its $44 billion takeover on Thursday was to fire the social media platform’s top executives, including the platform’s woman in charge of trust and security. -form, Vijaya Gadde.

He also posted a conciliatory note to wary advertisers, assuring them that he won’t let Twitter turn into a “free-for-all hellscape”.

The problem is that even the richest man in the world can’t have it both ways.

Lightly moderated “free speech” sites such as Gab and Parler serve as cautionary tales of what can happen when the guardrails are lowered. These small, niche sites are popular with conservatives and libertarians who are fed up with what they see as censorship of their views on mainstream platforms like Facebook. They are also full of Nazi imagery, racist slurs, and other extreme content, including calls for violence.

Some conservative figures took to Twitter on Friday after Musk’s takeover to recirculate long-debunked conspiracy theories in an apparent attempt to see if the site’s misinformation policies were still being enforced.

Advertisers don’t want to promote their products alongside disturbing, racist and hateful messages – and most people don’t want to spend time in chaotic online spaces where they are beset by racist and sexist trolls.

On Friday, GM announced it would suspend advertising on Twitter while it determines the direction of the platform under Musk. But Lou Paskalis, a former head of media at Bank of America, said Twitter’s most loyal advertisers, many of the Fortune 100 companies, believe in the platform and are unlikely to leave unless “some really unfortunate things happen.” ” does occur.

But it’s not just ads and jokes that are at stake.

Eddie Perez, former head of Twitter’s civic integrity team, said Musk seems to view Twitter as a digital public square where everyone has an equal voice. It’s a “picturesque idea of ​​the modern take on the town square,” Perez said.

But that’s not how the major social media platforms work. Instead, they have become powerful tools of asymmetric warfare, and many of their users fail to realize that they are being manipulated by disinformation from nation states and domestic bad actors – many of whom have significant resources.

“The danger here is that in the name of ‘free speech,’ Musk will backtrack and make Twitter a more powerful engine of hate, division and misinformation about elections, public health policy and business. international,” said Paul. Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.

Although he was expected to reinstate banned accounts — ranging from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene — Musk said Friday that no decision on content or reinstatements would be made until ‘a “content moderation board” would not be in place. The council, he wrote, would have “diverse views”, but he did not elaborate.

Musk may be starting from scratch, but Twitter has spent years building its content moderation system, which is still far from perfect. As such, experts have expressed serious concerns about Musk’s efforts – after all, the Tesla CEO has little experience navigating the capricious, geopolitical world of social media, even though he is a user. constant and extremely popular site he just bought.

“I am deeply concerned by Musk’s decision to summarily fire Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of legal, trust and safety policy – ​​a senior executive who was trying, albeit imperfectly, to prevent the platform to spread even more harmful content than it does.” said Barrett.

Many are looking to see if he will welcome back a number of influential conservative figures banned for breaking Twitter’s rules – speculation that is only intensifying with upcoming elections in Brazil, the United States and elsewhere.

“I’ll dig deeper today,” Musk tweeted early Friday, in response to a conservative political podcaster who complained that the platform favors liberals and secretly degrades conservative voices.

Former President Donald Trump, an avid tweeter before his ban, said on Friday he was “very happy that Twitter is now in good hands” but promoted his own social media site, Truth Social, which he launched after being blocked from the most widely used. Platform.

Trump was banned two days after the January 6 attacks for a pair of tweets that the company said continued to cast doubts on the legitimacy of the presidential election and increased risks for the presidential inauguration at which Trump said that he would not participate.

Another task for Musk: to deliver on his promise to clean up the fake profiles, or “spam bots” that bothered him and plagued Twitter long before he expressed interest in acquiring it.

The bot count is important because advertisers – Twitter’s main source of revenue – want to know roughly how many real humans they reach when buying ads. It’s also important in the effort to prevent bad actors from amassing an army of accounts to amplify misinformation or harass political opponents.

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Associated Press writers Frank Bajak, Jill Colvin and Mae Anderson contributed to this story. Follow AP’s coverage of Elon Musk: https://apnews.com/hub/elon-musk