Elon Musk, Twitter’s new owner, is marketing his “Twitter Files” – chosen internal communications from the firm laboriously tweeted out by supportive amanuenses. However, Musk’s apparent belief that he has unleashed some partisan Kraken is invalid. Far from conspiracy or widespread misuse, the files provide a helpful window into the extent of moderation, providing a hint at the Sisyphean tasks that every social media platform undertakes.
Firms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, have engaged in a complicated dance for the past ten years to keep the specifics of their moderation procedures out of the hands of authorities, malicious users, and the media.
Too much information would make procedures vulnerable to misuse by spammers and fraudsters, who profit from every element revealed or publicized. At the same time, too little information would promote rumors or false reports. Meanwhile, they should be ready to explain and record their practices or face government censorship and penalties.
As a result, even if everyone has a basic understanding of how these businesses review and categorize the content posted on their platforms, it is enough to guarantee that what we’re seeing is just the icing on the cake.
Generally, businesses only publish uncensored large-scale content moderation processes and technologies if forced to. And that is what Musk did, possibly at his own risk but undoubtedly to the great advantage of anybody who has ever questioned what moderators indeed do, speak, and tap when making decisions that have the potential to affect millions of people.
Instruments of Trade
Over the last week, Slack conversations, email chains, and images (or rather screenshots) have been shared, providing a peek into this critical and poorly defined process. We are seeing a small portion of the raw material, not the partisan Illuminati that some had anticipated. Yet, it is evident from the presentation’s highly selective nature that this is what we should be looking at.
The decision to confine the news of Hunter Biden’s laptop momentarily lacks the partisanship and potential conspiracy suggested by the bombshell packaging of the records, making it the second-most controversial moderation move in recent years behind Trump’s ban.
Elon Musk has posted internal emails from Twitter’s Hunter Biden laptop drama in an indirect manner. The following discussion, which included screenshots of the moderating tools used by Twitter staff, was even more revealing. While the thread incorrectly equates the usage of these tools with the prohibition of shadows, the screenshots reveal no criminal activity, nor is it required to be intriguing.
Twitter has been striving for years to ensure that the moderation process is effective and organized enough to run at scale, much like its other social media sites. Not only to keep the system free of bots and spam but also to abide by regulatory frameworks like GDPR and FTC orders.
A group of people making subjective decisions without a framework or monitoring is not an efficient approach to regulating or meeting such regulatory obligations, and neither is automation. You want a sizable network of individuals working together and cooperating inside a defined framework with different boundaries and escalation processes. And that is unquestionably what Musk’s screenshots appear to reveal.
What the records don’t reveal is any systematic bias, which Musk’s replacements imply but don’t exactly prove. What is disclosed, however, is interesting to anyone who believes that these businesses should be more transparent about their procedures, regardless of whether it reflects the story they want to convey. Even though Musk’s hidden strategy achieves it mostly by accident, it’s still a milestone for transparency.