When I worked at Twitter, I led the team that placed a fact-checking label on one of Donald Trump’s tweets for the first time. Following the violence of Jan. 6, I helped make the call to ban his account from Twitter altogether. Nothing prepared me for what would happen next.
Backed by fans on social media, Mr. Trump publicly attacked me. Two years later, following his acquisition of Twitter and after I resigned my role as the company’s head of trust and safety, Elon Musk added fuel to the fire. I’ve lived with armed guards outside my home and have had to upend my family, go into hiding for months and repeatedly move.
This isn’t a story I relish revisiting. But I’ve learned that what happened to me wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t just personal vindictiveness or “cancel culture.” It was a strategy — one that affects not just targeted individuals like me, but all of us, as it is rapidly changing what we see online.
Private individuals — from academic researchers to employees of tech companies — are increasingly the targets of lawsuits, congressional hearings and vicious online attacks. These efforts, staged largely by the right, are having their desired effect: Universities are cutting back on efforts to quantify abusive and misleading information spreading online. Social media companies are shying away from making the kind of difficult decisions my team did when we intervened against Mr. Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. Platforms had finally begun taking these risks seriously only after the 2016 election. Now, faced with the prospect of disproportionate attacks on their employees, companies seem increasingly reluctant to make controversial decisions, letting misinformation and abuse fester in order to avoid provoking public retaliation.
These attacks on internet safety and security come at a moment when the stakes for democracy could not be higher. More than 40 major elections are scheduled to take place in 2024, including in the United States, the European Union, India, Ghana and Mexico. These democracies will most likely face the same risks of government-backed disinformation campaigns and online incitement of violence that have plagued social media for years. We should be worried about what happens next. [Continue reading…]