A RECAP of the Letter GEORGE SOROS-Funded Foundation et al. Sent to Brands Saying Musk’s Takeover of Twitter ‘Toxifies’ the ‘Information Ecosystem’

Here’s a look at the open letter 26 activist organizations, including Access Now, an NGO funded in large part by George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, sent to major brands calling for them to threaten Elon Musk to maintain Twitter’s censorship status quo or lose ad dollars.

In a letter sent to mega brands on May 3, 2022 in response to Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, CNN reports that more than two dozen “civil society groups” said marketers “should secure commitments from [the social media platform] to retain its most critical policies, including on civic integrity and hateful conduct, and threaten to withdraw funding if Twitter does not comply.” The letter, signed by the likes of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), and Access Now—which seeks “to serve, guide, and influence decision makers across sectors through human rights-focused thought leadership” and is funded, in large part, by George Soros’ Open Society Foundations—also claims that “Musk’s takeover of Twitter will further toxify our information ecosystem” and serve as nothing more than a “vanity project” for the Tesla and SpaceX CEO.

Image: Media Matters, et al.

The letter, which CNN notes was sent to companies including Coca-Cola, Disney, and Kraft just prior to the 2022 NewFronts digital advertising conference—”the world’s largest digital content marketplace that gives media buyers a first look at the latest digital content from the biggest names in media and entertainment”—begins by claiming that “Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter will further toxify our information ecosystem and be a direct threat to public safety, especially among those already most vulnerable and marginalized.”

The letter, which has 26 NGO signatories in all, goes on to say that:

“Twitter has outsized influence in shaping both public discourse and industrywide platform governance standards. While the company is hardly a poster child for healthy social media, it has taken welcome steps in recent years to mitigate systemic risks, ratcheting up pressure on the likes of Facebook and
YouTube to follow suit. Musk intends to steamroll those safeguards and provide a megaphone to extremists who traffic in disinformation, hate, and harassment. Under the guise of ‘free speech,’ his vision will silence and endanger marginalized communities, and tear at the fraying fabric of democracy.”

The signatories remark that they “believe that Twitter should continue to uphold the practices that serve as guideposts for other Big Tech platforms” and then call on the top advertisers to commit to certain “standards” as “non-negotiable requirements for advertising on the platform.”

The letter’s authors go on to note these three standards are:

1. Keep accounts including those of public figures and politicians that were removed for egregious violations of Twitter Rules—such as harassment, violence, and hateful conduct—off the platform and continue to enforce the civic integrity policy along with the hateful conduct policy.

2. Beyond algorithmic transparency, ensure algorithmic accountability, preserve people’s privacy, and commit to depolarizing the algorithm.

3. Continue Twitter’s commitment to transparency and researcher access.

The authors, who, ironically, don’t provide their names in the letter (we only get those of the NGO signatories), briefly outline these three standards; noting in the explanation for “standard” one, for example, that Twitter must maintain its status quo “content moderation policies including its recently released climate commitments, its protections for transgender people, and its restrictions on other forms of hate, harassment, and violence” as removal of those “protections” would be “toxic not just for those targeted, but also for businesses advertising on the platform.” Looking at the language of the standard, however, one could surmise the authors are saying, more succinctly: Musk, you better not bring Trump back or we’ll boycott Twitter.

In the second standard, the authors encourage the brands to “Consider the implications of full-scale public visibility into Twitter’s algorithm and put protections in place to prevent bad actors from gaming the system.” This is in response to Musk calling for Twitter’s algorithms—which can be used to “shadow ban” or otherwise quietly throttle people’s accounts—to be completely open source; that is, completely viewable for any person on Earth, for free. The authors specifically call on the brands to compel Twitter to continue the work of its in-house research team called Machine Learning
Ethics, Transparency and Accountability
that looks at “potential biases” in the company’s algorithms.

“As top advertisers on Twitter, your brand risks association with a platform amplifying hate, extremism, health misinformation, and conspiracy theorists,” the authors conclude. “Under Musk’s management, Twitter risks becoming a cesspool of misinformation, with your brand attached, polluting our information ecosystem in a time where trust in institutions and news media is already at an all-time low,” they add.

Ultimately, the authors refer to Musk’s purchase of Twitter as a “vanity project.” Adding that they call on the letter recipients “to demand Musk uphold these basic standards of community trust and safety, and to pull your advertising spending from Twitter if they are not.”

In one tweet, Musk responded to the letter by asking the question: “Who funds these organizations that want to control your access to information?” and calling for people to “investigate.” In a later tweet, the billionaire engineer wrote: “I wonder if those funding these organizations are fully aware of what the organizations are doing.”

Jesse Lehrich, a co-founder of Accountable Tech—one of the letter’s authors—wrote in response to Elon’s reaction: “many thanks for broadcasting our letter to your 90M followers, Elon.” He added that “to be clear, I take it you won’t commit to keeping even Twitter’s basic safeguards against hateful conduct & harassment in place?”

As of this writing Musk has not commented on Lehrich’s tweet.

Feature image: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung / Heisenberg Media, The Summit 2013

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