Bay Area experts weigh in on Twitter 'amnesty,' how to handle hate speech, misinformation

BySuzanne Phan KGO logo
Sunday, November 27, 2022
Bay Area experts talk Twitter 'amnesty,' hate speech, misinformation
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Bay Area experts weigh in on how Twitter amnesty to suspended accounts will affect the spread of hate speech and misinformation.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Another day. Another Twitter headline.

CEO Elon Musk is now letting banned Twitter users come back.

With the mass layoffs and fewer people to moderate content on the social media platform, critics worry this will lead to more harassment, hate speech, and misinformation.

The billionaire posted a poll on Twitter asking if user accounts should be reinstated if they have not "broken the law or engaged in egregious spam."

The "yes" vote was 72%.

RELATED: Elon Musk says he's granting 'amnesty' to suspended Twitter accounts

In a follow up post, Musk tweeted, "The people have spoken. Amnesty begins next week."

Already, Musk has reinstated former president Trump, Kanye West and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Greene's account was banned for violating the platform's COVID misinformation policies.

"As a political scientist, these are things I'm really concerned about," said Melissa Michelson, political science professor with Menlo College.

RELATED: Musk restores Trump to Twitter after holding online poll

Michelson believes reactivating suspended accounts only invites trouble.

"You got things like vaccine deniers. You get an attack on a pizza parlor in D.C. where folks thought there was a pedophile ring. You get election deniers not believe outcome of election. You get violence. You get a violent uprising on Jan. 6," Michelson said.

Media and Communication Professor Nolan Higdon at Cal State East Bay said censorship is not the answer.

"I think the misconception is we can censor our way out of hate speech or misinformation. That was never really going to be a possibility. I have always believed this whole campaign to remove people from online platforms was never to get to the root of the problem, which is 'Why do we have hate speech?' Where does hate speech originate from? Where does this misinformation originate from? How do we better prepare people to spot misinformation? Removing people form online platforms simply does not deal with any of that," Higdon said.

MORE: Musk gives ultimatum to remaining Twitter staff: Go 'hardcore' or leave

Higdon says the answer is to train people to spot misinformation, not censor people who spread it.

"It's really a question of how you can spot misinformation so you don't fall for it and how you can change the culture so hate speech is not so prevalent," said Higdon. "So individuals don't believe it and individuals don't spread it. That's something we do through constructive dialogue and democratic discourse, not through engaging in censorship or appeals to authority."

Last month, Musk tweeted that no suspended accounts would be reinstated until Twitter formed "a content moderation council" with diverse viewpoints that would consider the cases.

Higdon says that's problematic too and that any board or panel can be full of biases.

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