“The Twitter situation is stirring things up,” he told the Financial Times this week in response to a question about whether mending staunch divides would be more of an engineering challenge or an interpersonal challenge. “That, instead of an objective set of measures done by a broad group of people, you’re sort of seeing seat-of-the-pants type activity.”
In a nutshell, Gates thinks Musk’s approach is causing digital polarization to reach a fever pitch—which could be catastrophic.
The trouble began in October, when Musk officially bought the social networking site for $44 billion. Almost immediately, structure and order at Twitter began cratering. Advertisers fled en masse over concerns about his inconsistency, journalists were banned, the entire senior leadership team called it quits, and thousands of employees were laid off—or came to work to discover their entire team had left.
Musk has openly considered replatforming banned users, including former President Donald Trump, whose account has been reinstated after being banned for spreading misinformation and inciting violence. Research from Montclair State University found an “immediate, visible, and measurable spike” in hate speech on the platform after Musk’s takeover. Some of the people who were let go or left the company of their own accord were responsible for monitoring and removing abusive content on the platform.
It’s all the opposite of what Gates thinks the world needs. Social media platforms with gigantic reach, like Twitter, bear requisite responsibility, Gates told FT. They “need to focus on the things that incite riots or lead to huge misconceptions about the safety of vaccines or masks,” he said, referring to misinformation.
Learning from the competition
Content regulation has been a growing issue across social media; Meta has notoriously had issues with misinformation, particularly when many denounced the platform for sharing “fake news” that they believed influenced the 2016 election.
In 2018, Nick Clegg, Meta’s now president of global affairs, helped the company assemble an independent oversight board “populated by experts from around the world who, independent of the company, generally have a kind of belief in free expression,” to help combat misinformation, he told Fortune during a panel at the CEO Initiative conference.
“Welcome to the club,” he added of Musk.
“That’s what happens when you run up social media companies. You can’t keep everybody happy. And certainly in the United States—half the country thinks that you’re taking too much content down, the other half thinks you should take down more,” Clegg said.
He suggested that Musk also consider implementing an independent oversight board, although that’s unlikely given that Musk dismantled Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council last week. Musk certainly has his work cut out for him—if he remains at the helm (the majority of Twitter users think he should step down as CEO, and he vowed he’d do as they said but hasn’t spoken on the matter since).
Clear, accessible, factual information is a longtime passion for Gates; in his annual year-end letter, which he published on his blog Tuesday morning, he counted America’s polarized political landscape as a prime factor in reversing progress on global health crises like COVID-19, polio, and malaria.
It’s no wonder a social networking site with 329 million users and a gutted content moderation team strikes Gates as a disaster waiting to happen.
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