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FILE – Tesla CEO Elon Musk Introduces Cybertruck to Tesla Design Studio November 21, 2019 in Hawthorne, California (AP Photo / Ringo HW Chiu, File) Press association

A few days after the takeover of Twitter and a week before the US election, billionaire Elon Musk positions himself as the chief moderator of one of the most important social media platforms in American politics.

Musk said he would not make major content decisions or the reinstatement of banned accounts before setting up a “content moderation board” with different viewpoints. But his own behavior as a prolific tweeter signaled something else.

He’s directly involved with right-wingers calling for looser restraints, including a Republican candidate for Arizona Secretary of State who credited Musk with allowing him to start tweeting again after his account was briefly suspended on Monday.

Musk even changed his profile to “Twitter Complaint Hotline Operator” – with a photo of himself when he was a toddler holding a phone. However, non-Twitter people are almost impossible to know what strings are being pulled or whose accounts have been suspended: the company has stopped responding to media inquiries, except for the few that Musk responds to by tweeting.

Musk’s promised interventions began last week on his first full day as owner of Twitter. The conservative political podcast shared examples of a platform purportedly favoring liberals and secretly belittling conservative voices – a common criticism that previous Twitter leaders dismissed as inaccurate. “I’ll be digging more today,” Musk replied.

This continued when the daughter of Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, whose provocative critique of “politically correct” culture and feminism is popular with some right-wing activists, appealed to Musk to restore her father’s account following a tweet about transgender actor Elliot Page, who had apparently been violating the Twitter’s rules on hateful behavior.

“Anyone who has been suspended for minor and questionable reasons will be released from prison on Twitter,” promised Musk. A few months earlier, he said in reference to Peterson that Twitter “goes too far in suppressing dissent.”

One of Musk’s first big moves was an open letter to advertisers – Twitter’s main source of income – promising not to let Twitter sink into “free-for-all hell” as it pursues its plans to promote freedom of speech on the platform. And it suggests asking users to pay $ 8 for the coveted, verified blue checkmark as a way to diversify your revenue.

The check mark has been criticized as a symbol of elitism on the platform. But its main goal was to find out if public accounts – such as politicians, brands, and journalists – were who they claimed to be. It is a tool to prevent impersonation and help stop the flow of disinformation.

But some still worry that Musk will open the platform to a flood of online toxicity that is damaging to their brands. General Motors said it will suspend Twitter ads as it monitors the platform under Musk, and others are under pressure to verify their own plans. On Tuesday, more than three dozen support organizations sent an open letter to Twitter’s top 20 advertisers, urging them to pledge to freeze ads on the platform if Twitter under Musk’s control undermines “brand security” and spoils content moderation.

Over the weekend, the billionaire published – and then deleted – an article containing unfounded rumors about an att*ck on the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Many of his comments in recent days have responded to appeals from conservative voices.

In a text interview with The Associated Press, Mark Finch, a Republican running for Arizona Secretary of State, said his access to the platform was quickly restored after contacting Musk via his personal Twitter account. When asked why his account was suspended, Finchem said, “Maybe you should contact Elon Musk. We were banned for an unknown reason, contacted him and returned to work 45 minutes later. “

Finch, who is contesting the results of the 2020 presidential election and was in the Capitol on January 6, 2021, drew national attention with his statements about the security of the elections and his ability to change the rules of the election should he win the top position in the election next week.

Musk tweeted on Monday evening that he was “looking at it” in response to a complaint about Finchem’s apparent suspension. The complaint comes from attorney Jenny Ellis, who was campaign legal adviser to former President Donald Trump. About 40 minutes later, Finchem posted a “test” tweet on his account, followed by a longer post thanking Musk for getting him back on the site.

“Thank you @elonmusk for stopping the commune that suspended me on Twitter one week before the elections,” Finchem wrote on Twitter. “Twitter is much better with you at the helm.”

Jared Holt, senior research manager at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, said large social media companies tend to act on the whims of their owners. But “this problem is especially glaring when someone like Elon Musk takes the reins and sets himself up as king of the platform rather than the owner trying to run a cohesive business,” said Holt.

At the same time, Musk is sending out mixed signals about his intentions. Despite the blatant examples of appealing to conservative calls and complaints about Twitter’s policy, there is also ample evidence that the platform’s policy on tackling disinformation continues to apply. Separately, Musk defended Twitter’s current head of confidence and security, Yoel Roth, after some conservative users called for his dismissal over earlier comments expressing liberal views.

Roth stayed on the job this week after other directors were fired or resigned. Outside of Musk, he appeared to be the main public voice in moderating Twitter content, explaining that the company spent the weekend working to remove the “increase in hateful behavior” following its acquisition of Musk.

“We all made a few questionable tweets, I do more than most, but I want to be clear that I support Yoel,” Musk tweeted in response to a complaint from another conservative commentator. “I have the impression that he has a high degree of integrity and we are all entitled to our political convictions.”

Some longtime Twitter followers have expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of Musk’s planned content moderation board. Partly because Twitter already has a Trust and Security Advisory Board that deals with moderation questions.

“I really can’t imagine how it would be any different,” said Danielle Citron, law professor at the University of Virginia, who sits on the board and has worked with Twitter since 2009 to combat online damage such as threats and harassment. “Our council has a full spectrum of views on freedom of expression.”

Citron said she was still waiting to hear if the council would have another meeting scheduled for the day after mid-term.

O’Brien reported from Providence, Rhode Island. AP writer Bob Christie of Phoenix contributed to this report.

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