On May 14, social media platforms found themselves struggling to handle a livestream video of a white supremacist terror attack. But the man who has been the country’s loudest commentator on content moderation had nothing to say.
below Elon Musk’s take on content moderation, any restriction of speech beyond what the law prohibits is censorship. And by that standard, the video of the attack in Buffalo – however graphic – should have remained on the platform, since videos of graphic violence are not illegal speech. In practice, platforms were criticized for being too slow to take down, and Musk saw no need to get into the debate.
The details of the Buffalo, New York shooting are widely known and still painful to report. Ten people were killed Saturday afternoon in a supermarket that served as a mainstay for residents of Buffalo’s predominantly Black East Side† A gunman livestreamed the murderous violence on Twitch and planned to inflict even more before being stopped by the police.
The Buffalo shooter was without a doubt radicalized online. He cited the Christchurch mass shooting as a source of inspiration, copy large parts of the New Zealand terrorist’s manifesto in one of his own. He was motivated by the “great replacement” theory, which holds that white people are deliberately stripped of their positions of power through immigration and interracial marriage. He wrote that he got to know the theory through 4chan, the online message board that spawned QAnon and is linked to many other acts of white supremacist terrorism†
No doubt he also drew on a script of mass shooters who design their slaughters to spread on social media and hope to use the viral power of extreme, graphic violence to amplify a message of hate. And while the original Twitch stream was taken down in minutes, on other platforms, the video much wider and longer spread†
And as America reeled from the news, Elon Musk remained silent — despite Tesla’s significant presence in Buffalo† While Twitter — the company whose moderation policies he has relentlessly criticized in the run-up to and after its acquisition deal — was forced to make real-time decisions about whether videos of the shooting should be allowed to circulate or if links to a terrorist manifesto conflicted with content policies, the ambitious owner declined to comment.
Perhaps his focus was elsewhere, a sympathetic reader might say. It’s true that with the wobbly stock markets, Tesla stock falling and the Twitter acquisition deal on hold, there’s a lot that could divert his attention. If he had completely stopped tweeting this weekend, it would be fair to suggest he was busy elsewhere.
In reality, Musk had posted a number of tweets within hours of the shooting, some of which were even about content moderation. About five hours after the shooting took place, he explained to users how to access the chronological feed to prevent them “manipulated by the algorithm† Later that evening, he found time to share a newsletter from Matt Taibbi on corporate regulation in California, some images from a recent Space X launch, and a royal portrait of King Louis XIV of France. The next day, he revisited the chronological order discussion with a tweet about the importance of open source code. On Monday he found enough time to troll Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal in a conversation about spam. But viewers looking for commentary on Buffalo found nothing.
I’ve been refreshing all day, waiting for Elon’s take on the Buffalo shooter manifesto and the video shared on Twitter. Nothing. nada. zipper. Zilch.
— Dare Obasanjo (@Carnage4Life) May 15, 2022
Would Elon Musk Have Ordered to Remove Videos of the Shooting? So far he has not given any answers because there is no answer that is both a general understanding of moral decency and his outspoken stance on moderation and freedom of expression† A video of graphic violence is not illegal in and of itself, and the video of the Buffalo shooter is sure to be shared by law enforcement, government agencies and other organizations investigating the crime. But for millions of social media users to watch and share a video of a carnage for their own sickly curiosity is unscrupulous, and every platform will have a content policy rightfully blocking or severely restricting it.
Having failed to connect — at least publicly — with one of the many content moderation researchers who study violent and extremist content, Musk has failed to demonstrate a nuanced understanding of the range of speech that is legal but dangerous or that there is some difference between content we should outright ban and content we should consider restricting from broadcasting on a massive, global distribution platform.
Now it’s time for that discussion. At a time when the national conversation is centered on this terrorist act, Elon Musk has a chance to plant his flag in the ground: Commit to his vision of laissez-faire contentment and accept the consequences or recognize that there are limits. to be.
Instead, the free speech advocate has gone strangely stupid.