Civil rights leaders confronted Elon Musk about the uptick of tweets containing racial slurs since he took over Twitter in a virtual meeting Tuesday afternoon, and also pushed him on the need to maintain election integrity measures before the midterms and restore content moderation tools that have been frozen.
The group — which included the heads of the Anti-Defamation League, Color of Change, Free Press, the Asian American Foundation, the NAACP, and the George W. Bush Presidential Center — walked away with a few verbal commitments from Musk, which he tweeted publicly early Wednesday.
But attendees say they’re waiting to see whether Musk follows those commitments with action. “He seemed to be listening. He seemed to be earnest,” said Jessica González, co-CEO of the nonprofit Free Press. “But he’s also shown himself to be inconsistent. We will judge him by his deeds, not his words.” Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
González described the meeting as “cordial” but said she and others pushed Musk on the spread of racist tweets across the platform since last week. “Obviously that was a coordinated attempt to test the system, and the system failed,” González said.
In response, González said Musk told the group Twitter is working on removing that network, details of which Twitter’s head of safety and integrity, Yoel Roth, has been sharing in recent days. But, González said, “This is an unsatisfying answer, because it’s not hard to root out the N-word.”
The group also emphasized the need for Musk himself to set the tone for users. After taking control of Twitter, Musk shared, then deleted, a fake news story about the recent attack on Paul Pelosi. Though the group didn’t specifically discuss the tweet, it did emphasize that “with great power comes great responsibility,” said Yael Eisenstat, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League.
“Regardless of what he tells us and regardless of what he says the policies are, it is clear people felt emboldened to start spewing hate speech and other really concerning content,” Eisenstat said. “He specifically said — and these are his words — that he does not want Twitter to be a hate amplifier.”
The coalition approached Musk with three key requests: that the company not restore the accounts of anyone who was previously de-platformed until it has set up a transparent process for doing so; that the company continues to prohibit election lies and denial, even after Election Day; and that Twitter includes the voices of civil rights leaders and communities that have faced hate-fueled violence on its forthcoming content moderation council.
Eisenstat said Musk verbally agreed with all of it, and afterward, he tweeted at least some of those commitments publicly. “Now it’s up to us to monitor if he stays true to his words,” Eisenstat said.
Musk’s tweets about the meeting said setting up a process for restoring suspended accounts would take “at least a few more weeks,” appearing to negate the possibility that former president Trump’s account could be restored just before the midterms.
In addition to those requests, González said the group also tried to help Musk understand the damage to free speech that comes from allowing hate and harassment on the platform. “That can have a chilling effect on speech when someone is targeted and dogpiled and harassed,” she said.
Musk also assured the group that content moderation tools that had been temporarily frozen through the transition would be accessible again by the end of the week, González said.
Despite these commitments, the civil rights coalition is not letting up on its pressure campaign, which includes calling on advertisers to pull out of Twitter if Musk reduces content moderation on the platform. IPG, which represents major advertisers including Unilever and CVS, has already reportedly recommended its clients pause Twitter advertising. The same coalition of civil rights groups previously led an advertiser boycott of Facebook after George Floyd’s murder.
Musk’s tweets about meeting with these civil rights groups prompted a swift backlash from conservative commentators. “Already he’s getting trolled about this,” González said. “Actually doing the right thing requires making unpopular decisions sometimes.”