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As Elon Musk era kicks off, the time is now for publishers to take back control

Posted by Michael Gately on May 05, 2022 • ... comments

 

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Last week we published a post on Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter for $44 billion. The deal has opened up wide-ranging conversations about where Twitter’s strategy on moderation and free speech might be headed once Musk is officially at the helm of the social media platform. Let’s explore the possible directions in which the Elon Musk Twitter era might take us, and how publishers can plan to navigate them and come out ahead. 

Protected speech vs. free speech

Much has already been said about Musk’s stance on free speech and how it might further enable the kind of toxic discourse that Twitter has attempted to tamp down over the course of the last few years. But the reality is that most privately-owned platforms have some set of moderation policies. When right-wing apps like Truth Social sprung up after the 2020 election, they still had terms of service listing things users could not say or do, such as make harassing, abusive or racist comments. It’s unlikely that Twitter will become a free-for-all—it just means Musk will have decision-making power for these policies. 

There certainly is concern that however Musk decides to retool Twitter’s policies might end unfavorably for women and minority users who are often attacked on the social media platform despite its ban on certain types of speech. But just as is the case for most publishers, if Twitter’s policies end up allowing more harassing and abusive speech that results in women and minorities leaving the platform, it’s bad for business. As we mentioned in our post about how publishers can approach the Ukraine war, advertisers are leery of having their ads appear alongside negative or disparaging content. In addition, for Twitter to grow its reach, keeping and attracting a diverse pool of users is paramount. It would be wise for Twitter, and the publishers who use the site, to keep certain levels of protection that allow advertisers to conduct business with brand safety top of mind and for users of all backgrounds to feel welcome. 

A comment about the comments section 

As we said in our initial post on Musk’s Twitter takeover, the uncertainty of how the platform’s policies will evolve means publishers must be even more strategic in their own terms of service. You can’t control what happens on Twitter, but you can control the discourse on your own site by:

  • Enacting automated moderation and pre-moderation rules: Set up different triggers that result in a comment getting flagged for review, deleted or marked as spam. You can do something similar for users who are repeat offenders, giving them timeouts or removing them altogether. Plus, you can ensure new users must get approval for their comments until you know they are trustworthy. 
  • Automating spam moderation: Leverage machine learning and comment history across millions of sites to automatically detect and remove spam before it lands on your site.
  • Steering the conversation toward particular content: You can promote respectful discourse by recommending articles with a lot of comment activity for a certain period of time. This can also help you boost traffic and engagement while helping to surface high-quality contributions from your community.
  • Shutting down comments on a thread altogether: You can specify how long you want comments to remain open after a thread has been created in your moderation settings. You can set this up to happen automatically or do it manually.
  • Sending comments-related Digests: Because no one has time to sit on websites (or Twitter, for that matter) all day, you can send active commenters Digests about activity on their frequented sites.

No matter what happens with Twitter, publishers can stay in control by staying invested in the users on their site and the discussions they are having. That’s how they not only maintain engagement and monetization of their audiences, it’s also how they promote a healthy internet for everyone. 

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