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Israel’s Foreign Ministry jabs Twitter for new lax attitude toward hate speech

Spokesperson warns platform could become ‘very unpleasant place for most of us’ without clear rules on ethics, content moderation

The Twitter splash page is seen on a digital device, Monday, April 25, 2022, in San Diego.  (AP/Gregory Bull)
The Twitter splash page is seen on a digital device, Monday, April 25, 2022, in San Diego. (AP/Gregory Bull)

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon appeared to criticize Twitter’s lack of moderation of hate speech, extremism, and antisemitism on the platform, under the new leadership of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and said it risks becoming ” a very unpleasant place.”

Nahshon, who serves as deputy director general for public diplomacy at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, posted a screenshot on Monday of a hateful comment he received to one of his tweets in which the writer claimed the Holocaust never happened.

“For many extremists, the freedom of speech is simply the freedom to spew venom. A Twitosphere [Twittersphere] without clear rules of conduct and ethics will become quickly a very unpleasant place for most of us,” Nahshon wrote.

Musk, a self-described “free speech absolutist,” spent $44 billion to buy Twitter last month and then proceeded to fire over half the staff, push others to resign, and spook advertisers by tweeting conspiracy theories, reinstating previously banned accounts including that of former US president Donald Trump, and engaging with right-wing trolls and personalities regularly. Musk also let go of an unknown number of contractors worldwide, responsible for content moderation.

On Oct. 28, the day after he took control, Musk tweeted that there would be no “major content decisions or account reinstatements” until Twitter formed a “content moderation council” with diverse viewpoints that would consider the cases. No such council has been formed.

Civil rights groups have said that since Musk’s takeover, hate speech and antisemitic speech have spiked on the platform as online networks have seized on his ownership as an opportunity to launch a full-court press of hateful content on the site.

This caused concern among rights groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, which called for an advertising boycott and for Musk to tweet that ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt was “defaming” him.

Musk has since said he reneged on the promise to form a moderation council because he’d agreed to it at the insistence of “a large coalition of political-social activists groups” who later ”broke the deal” by urging that advertisers at least temporarily stop giving Twitter their business.

On Monday, frustrated further by advertisers pulling or pausing campaigns, Musk attacked Apple over its tight control of what is allowed on the App Store, saying the iPhone maker has threatened to oust his recently acquired social media platform. Musk also joined the chorus crying foul over a 30 percent fee Apple collects on transactions via its App Store — the sole gateway for applications to get onto its billion-plus mobile devices.

A series of tweets fired off by Musk included a meme of a car with his first name on it veering onto a highway off-ramp labeled “Go to War,” instead of continuing onwards towards “Pay 30%.”

The billionaire CEO also tweeted that Apple has “threatened to withhold Twitter from its App Store, but won’t tell us why.”

In this file photo taken on March 14, 2019, Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks during the unveiling of the new Tesla Model Y in Hawthorne, California. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP)

Both Apple and Google require social networking services on their app stores to have effective systems for moderating harmful or abusive content.

Yoel Roth, the former head of trust and safety at Twitter who left after Musk took over, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that “failure to adhere to Apple’s and Google’s guidelines would be catastrophic,” and risk “expulsion from their app stores.”

Musk believes that all content permitted by law should be allowed on Twitter, and on Monday described his actions as a “revolution against online censorship in America.”

He also tweeted that he planned to publish “Twitter Files on free speech suppression,” but without clarifying what data he had in mind to share with the public.

Though Musk says Twitter is seeing record-high engagement with him at the helm, his approach has startled the company’s major moneymaker — advertisers.

In recent weeks, half of Twitter’s top 100 advertisers have announced they are suspending or have otherwise “seemingly stopped advertising on Twitter,” an analysis conducted by nonprofit watchdog group Media Matters found.

Apple CEO Tim Cook holds a new iPhone 14 Pro during an Apple special event on September 7, 2022 in Cupertino, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP)

Musk on Monday accused Apple of also having “mostly stopped advertising on Twitter.”

“Do they hate free speech in America?” he asked, before replying with a tweet tagging Apple CEO Tim Cook.

In the first three months of 2022, Apple was the top advertiser on Twitter, spending some $48 million on ads which accounted for more than 4 percent of the social media platform’s revenue, according to a Washington Post report citing an internal Twitter document.

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