New Twitter CEO Elon Musk met with civil rights groups this week amid concerns over hate speech and misinformation spreading on the platform after his takeover, especially in the days leading up to the midterm elections.
During the meeting with representatives from groups including the Anti-Defamation League, Color of Change, the NAACP and Free Press, Musk committed to taking actions that the groups pushed for aimed at keeping Twitter safe. But the leaders said they will move forward with their efforts to hold him accountable.
Jessica González, co-CEO of Free Press, said the meeting with Musk “seemed productive” but she is not “encouraged enough” to pull back on the campaign that civil rights groups launched asking advertisers to suspend their ads on Twitter if Musk doesn’t commit to enforcing safety standards.
“I think we need to keep the pressure on and make sure that his actions meet his words,” González told The Hill.
Musk met with the groups after Free Press and Media Matters led nearly 50 civil society groups in a letter Tuesday calling for Twitter’s top 20 advertisers to pull their ads if he didn’t enforce safety standards. Advertising giant IPG later reportedly issued a recommendation to its clients, which include Johnson and Johnson, Coca Cola and American Express, to pause paid advertising on Twitter.
The meeting showcases the balancing act Musk faces to follow through on his pledge to create his vision of a “free speech” platform, by peeling back content moderation measures, while also appeasing the advertisers Twitter is largely reliant on for revenue.
During the meeting, Musk agreed to keep Twitter’s election integrity team in place and continue to take action against tweets that spew election misinformation, González said.
He also assured the leaders that employees who had moderation tools frozen, as reported by Bloomberg, would have access to them by the end of the week, she said.
“I actually don’t think that timeline is quick enough at all — I said so — but he did commit that they would be back with the tools shortly,” she said, noting that the election is less than a week away.
Musk also committed to keep users banned from Twitter off the platform for now. He tweeted after the meeting that users will remain banned for “at least a few more weeks,” as the company creates a “clear process” for reinstating accounts.
Civil rights leaders have raised concerns around letting banned users back on, especially former President Trump, who was banned after the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot and could use Twitter to reach out to a wider audience ahead of a 2024 run.
Decisions about reinstating accounts will in part be made by Twitter’s content moderation council, a proposal Musk announced after closing the deal last week.
After the meeting, he said the council will “certainly include the civil rights community and groups who face hate-fueled violence,” but he has not provided more detail about its scope.
The meeting faced criticism over the lack of representation from LGBTQ rights groups.
“Notably absent from the groups Elon talked to, any LGBTQ civil rights org. Neither HRC or GLAAD were consulted. This is why coalition building is critical. It’s so that when we are excluded, other groups can still advocate on our behalf,” tweeted Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law Cyberlaw Clinic.
Evan Greer, director of Fight for the Future, tweeted, “cool so not a single trans person or LGBTQ+ group this bodes well for us,” in response to Musk’s tweet about the meeting.
Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, said the meeting with Musk is “just the beginning.”
“Misinformation, disinformation, hateful rhetoric, online harassment and other results of an almost entirely unregulated tech sector are not just abstract principles or debates — they are matters of life and death, safety and harm, freedom and oppression. We will continue to hold Musk accountable to the evidence of Twitter’s negative impact on Black people and our freedoms, even as his many cheerleaders try to deny them,” Robinson said in a statement.
The meeting also faced a hiccup over the participation of a representative that Latino civil rights group LULAC said does not represent them. Musk tweeted that he met with Sindy Benavides, but in a press release issued last month, LULAC said the former CEO was terminated.
David Cruz, a spokesperson for LULAC, told Bloomberg that Benavides “does not represent LULAC in any capacity before any audience” and that her presence “[d]enied us having a voice and adding our perspective to this important debate at a critical time in our history.”
Benavides told Bloomberg that “even though we have internal governance issues happening, which will be sorted out in the court of law” her role will be to “not be distracted by the issues and carry on the mission of the organization.”