Elon Musk sets Twitter poll for 'general amnesty' of suspended accounts

Musk is facing criticism that his criteria for content moderation is subject to his personal whim. PHOTO: REUTERS

SAN FRANCISCO - New owner Elon Musk on Wednesday polled Twitter users on whether the site should offer a general amnesty to suspended accounts, using the same method he used to handle the case of former US president Donald Trump.

The move comes as Mr Musk has faced pushback that his criteria for content moderation is subject to his personal whim, with reinstatements decided for certain accounts and not others.

The poll was open until 17.46 GMT on Thursday (1.46am on Friday, Singapore time) and mimicked the strategy used just days ago for Mr Trump.

“Should Twitter offer a general amnesty to suspended accounts, provided that they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam?“ Mr Musk tweeted.

Mr Trump’s Twitter account was reinstated on Saturday after a narrow majority of respondents supported the move, days after the ex-president announced another White House bid.

A blanket decision on suspended accounts would potentially alarm government authorities that are keeping a close look on Mr Musk’s handling of hateful speech.

It could also spook Apple and Google, tech titans that have the power to ban Twitter from their mobile app stores and deny the platform access to hundreds of millions of its users.

Mr Trump was banned from the platform early last year for his role in the Jan 6 attack on the US Capitol by a mob of his supporters seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The former president’s reinstatement followed that of other banned accounts including a conservative parody site and a psychologist who had violated Twitter’s rules on language identifying transgender people.

The chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX has said that conspiracy theorist Alex Jones will not be returning to Twitter and will remain banned from the platform.

Despite requests, Mr Musk on Sunday said he had “no mercy for anyone who would use the deaths of children for gain, politics or fame” due to his own experience of watching his first child die.

Mr Jones has been ordered to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for his lies about the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed 26 people, mostly children.

Mr Musk, who closed his US$44 billion (S$60 billion) buyout of Twitter in late October, did not make clear whether the bans to be covered by the poll were permanent suspensions or temporary ones.

The future of content moderation on Twitter has become an urgent concern, with major advertisers staying away from the site after a failed relaunch earlier this month saw a proliferation of fake accounts, causing embarrassment.

Meanwhile, the teams in charge of keeping bad content or nefarious activity off the site have been gutted, victims of Musk-led layoffs that saw half of total employees leave the company. AFP

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