PHILADELPHIA (HPD) — With the help of Twitter, Pariss Chandler created a community of black people with tech jobs that eventually became the foundation for her own recruiting company.
Now, she fears all of that will come crashing down if Twitter becomes a haven for racist and toxic rhetoric under the control of Elon Musk, a serial provocateur who has indicated he might relax the platform’s content rules.
With Twitter driving almost all of his business, Chandler doesn’t see any good alternatives amid the uncertainty.
“Before Elon took over, I felt like the team was working to make Twitter a more secure platform, but now it feels like they’re not there. I don’t know what is going on internally. I’ve given up hope on that,” said Chandler, 31, the founder of Black Tech Pipeline, a job posting and recruitment website. “I am sad and terrified for Twitter, both for the employees and for the users.”
Those apprehensions are weighing on many who have come to trust Twitter, a relatively small but powerful platform that has become a kind of digital public square for influencers, policymakers, journalists and other opinion leaders.
Musk, CEO of Tesla and Space X, took control of Twitter last week after a $44 billion deal, making his unpredictable style immediately felt.
Just days later, he tweeted a link to a report by a little-known news outlet that made a dubious claim about the violent attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband at the couple’s California home. Musk deleted the link shortly after, but it was a worrying sign for those worried about the spread of misinformation online.
Musk has also expressed his intentions to relax protections against hate speech and perhaps allow former President Donald Trump and other banned commentators to return to the platform. However, Musk has tempered the idea after completing the acquisition, vowing to form a “content moderation board” and not allow the return of anyone who has been kicked off the network until procedures are put in place on how to do so.
However, the use of racial epithets exploded, in an apparent test of his level of tolerance.
“Gentlemen, things are getting ugly here. Not really sure about my plans. Shall I stay or go?” Jennifer Taub, a law professor and writer who has a quarter of a million followers, asked last Sunday, tweeting a link to her Facebook page in case she leaves. Twitter.
For now, Taub plans to stay, given the opportunity the platform provides to “laugh, learn and commiserate” with people around the world, but will leave if Twitter becomes “a cesspool of racism and anti-Semitism,” he said in a phone conversation. .
“The numbers are going down and down and down,” added Taub, who has lost 5,000 followers since Musk officially took over the social network. “The turning point could be if I don’t feel happy here. There are too many people to be blocked.”
The debate is especially charged for non-white people who have used Twitter to make connections and raise their voices, while also confronting toxicity on the platform.
“As a user of Twitter — in many ways a major user — the platform has great utility and I am very concerned about where people are going to go next with this conversation,” said Tanzina Vega, a Hispanic journalist in New York who once received death threats on Twitter, but also built a community of friends and sources there.
Chandler, a software engineer, hoped she could counteract the isolation she felt in a white-dominated industry when she tweeted a question and selfie four years ago: “What does Black Twitter look like in tech? Here it is, I’m going first.” The response she received was overwhelming. Now she has more than 60,000 followers and her own company, which connects black tech workers with companies big and small.
Chandler has received hate mail and some death threats from people accusing her of racism for targeting black techies, but she also has contact with Twitter employees who have listened to her concerns. She said those employees have either left the company or are no longer active on the platform.
Chandler’s company also uses Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, but none can replicate the kind of vibrant community she spearheads on Twitter, where people mix professional networking with light chat.
Instagram and TikTok have content focused more on images than on written exchanges. Facebook is no longer as popular with younger users. LinkedIn is more formal. And while some are trying to create alternative sites, it takes time to develop a user-friendly and stable website that can handle millions of accounts.
Joan Donovan, an internet expert who explores the threat disinformation poses to democracy in her new book “Meme Wars,” says it’s unclear whether Twitter will remain a safe place for civic discourse, but she said networks that people have built there are invaluable, both for users, communities and Musk.
“That’s the exact reason why Musk bought Twitter and didn’t build his own social network,” Donovan added. “If you control the territory, you can control the politics and you can control the culture in many ways.”
In his first hours in charge, Musk fired several top Twitter executives, including legal counsel Vijaya Gadde, who had overseen Twitter’s security and content moderation efforts around the world. He dissolved the board of directors, leaving him answerable only to himself, at least officially. On Friday, Twitter began widespread layoffs.
European regulators immediately warned Musk of his duties under digital privacy laws to monitor illegal speech and disinformation. The United States has been much more lenient in its regulation of Twitter and its 238 million users, but advertisers, users and perhaps creditors will rein it in if Congress doesn’t tighten the rules first.
“If the advertisers go away and the users go away, it could be that the marketplace of ideas will figure things out for itself,” said Cary Coglianese, a regulatory policy expert at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law.
That could leave Twitter as another magnet for extremists and conspiracy theorists, a fear that is causing some to call on their networks of friends to stay put, so they can counter such narratives.
Chandler says that she can only “tip her toes” and wait.
“Personally, I’m going to stay on Twitter until there’s no more reason to stay. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m waiting for some kind of miracle,” she stated. “For now, I’m not going anywhere.”
Maryclaire Dale is at: https://twitter.com/Maryclairedale.