Twitter has helped create social movements around the world. Now organizers fear for his future


COSATU National Day of Action in Johannesburg South Africa

COSATU members during the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) National Day of Action at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Johannesburg, South Africa on October 07, 2021. Credit – Luba Lesolle—Gallo Images/Getty Images

Pro-Palestine activists have a long history of defamatory attacks targeting their places of work or study. When Hadi Nasrallah tweeted a video of protesters confront Israeli Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely after a speech at the end of 2021, he caught the attention of David Collier. Collier has a large following, describes himself as a journalist and researcher on anti-Semitism, and has targeted supporters of Palestine and confused criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism in the past. Collier, who calls Nasrallah an “extremist,” began sharing personal images from Nasrallah’s Facebook account. Nasrallah reported these tweets and in response, Twitter locked Collier left his account until he deleted tweets that violated Twitter’s rules on private media sharing.

“Twitter is vital for Palestinian activists because it allows them to speak out about their oppression in their own words, with less chance of being censored like on other social media platforms,” ​​said Farah Koutteineh, public relations manager. at Palestinian Return. Centre, which focuses on the issue of Palestinian refugees.

From the Arab Spring and the 2020 racial justice uprisings in the United States, to worker-led boycotts in South Africa and Gazans documenting the toll of Israeli attacks, Twitter has played a vital role for justice movements. social across the world. When comparing content moderation approaches across platforms, Twitter defines a high Standard with its application of Community directives. Activists noted Twitter’s enforcement of community guidelines, which generally protect them more from harassment than they realize on other platforms. Twitter goes further than other social media and has banned users who violate its terms. (Famous, Donald Trump was banned from the platform for inciting violence in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the capital.) Now that Elon Musk has struck a deal to buy the platform, organizers using it , especially those from marginalized groups, do not know what to expect. Musk has been a vocal critic of both the guidelines and the Twitter executives who enforce them and sworn defend freedom of expression. In an April TED interview, he said he was more in favor of temporary penalties for violations than permanent bans.

Roy Yellin, B’tselem’s public outreach manager, said Twitter and social media coverage changed the understanding of Israel’s attacks in Gaza by “reversing the narrative that accompanied previous Israeli operations that Hamas fired rockets and that Israel was responding to that” and rather reflecting the position of human rights organizations who accuse Israel of apartheid.

Des militants palestiniens et israéliens participent à une manifestation hebdomadaire dans le quartier de Sheikh Jarrah à Jérusalem-Est, contre l'expulsion de familles palestiniennes en faveur de colons juifs, le 18 février 2022.<span class=Ilia Yefimovich—photo alliance/Getty Images” data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTQ3MA–/ 3aZaIZNtNrMdtwTQb8xjyA–~B/aD0xNjAwO3c9MjQwMDthcHBpZD15dGFjaHlvbg–/″/>

Tinovimbananshe Gwenyaya, a former trade unionist from South Africa, has also seen the power of Twitter firsthand. When workers in his union went on strike and then launched a boycott against the company, they took to Twitter to educate South African customers as the company hired replacement workers. Previously, as a university student in South Africa, he helped organize students campaigning against Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe, and Twitter helped publicize their marches and solidarity campaigns. “Twitter has played an important role in mobilizing people in historic ways,” says Gwenyaya, “where the marginalized can freely express their opinions against oppression, exploitation, dictatorships, regimes that seek to suppress human freedom. ‘expression”. Gwenyaya argues that Musk’s “right-wing understanding of free speech” puts that at risk.

Although many groups found the platform useful and safe enough to organize, they were still harassed. Koutteineh fears that the racist and Islamophobic harassment, death threats and smear campaigns that activists already face on the platform will increase under Musk’s leadership.

Union activists, who have also faced harassment and smear campaigns online when they organize, echo these concerns, pointing to the anti-union shares in his other company, Tesla, which earned him censure from the National Labor Relations Board. “How will Elon Musk respond to tweets against Tesla’s working conditions or environmental pollution? Will he tolerate tweets criticizing him? says Gahyun Lee who was the first female president of the Arbeit Workers’ Union in South Korea to work with minimum wage and part-time workers. Musk has a record to prosecute criticism inside and outside of Tesla, but has tweeted that he hopes his detractors will stay on Twitter.

“Twittering under Elon Musk would make an already deadly Twitter even deadlier to our communities and democracies across South Asia,” says Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director of Equality Labs, which organizes with religious and cultural minorities in South Asia to end caste apartheid. Religious and caste-oppressed minorities in India face intense vitriol online, including smear campaigns, harassment, misinformation, trolling, rape threats, violence against them- themselves and their relatives. she says. Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

The musk has clarified that its commitment to freedom of expression refers to what is defined by governments that captures the will of the people, and India also demonstrates the limits of this approach. Under a Hindu nationalist government, hate speech and violence against Muslims is spreading rapidly online and offline. “This kind of total trust in government is ridiculous,” says Yellin, from B’tselem, “We know that governments can be the best protectors of human rights and the most dangerous violators of human rights. .”

Musk also proposed eliminating anonymous profiles. In the United States, during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 and before, anonymous accounts played a major role in coordinating public actions. “What an imposed real-name policy means is that Twitter will not make it easier for those who fight racialized police violence to organize their efforts,” says Sarah Hamid, campaign manager at the Carceral Tech Resistance Network, which supports the campaigns of abolitionist organizations.

Les partisans de Black Lives Matter et d'autres marchent sur le pont de Brooklyn pour honorer George Floyd à l'occasion du premier anniversaire de sa mort le 25 mai 2021.<span class=Spencer Platt—Getty Images” data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTQ3MA–/ iNhUXOukQ84lkgSnqLY3BQ–~B/aD0xNjAwO3c9MjQwMDthcHBpZD15dGFjaHlvbg–/″/>

While Twitter allows communities to connect and unite during protests, those connections also come with risks, regardless of who owns the business. As the networks are built on a public website, they are subject to surveillance by companies like Dataminr who have been accused racial profiling of individuals when identifying potential “gang members” or “threats” to local law enforcement. Dataminr did not respond to a request for comment.

Katrina, a member of Vermont’s Black Liberation Collective who declined to share her last name, declined to speculate what Musk will do but doubts it will favor grassroots organizers like her. “At the end of the day, he will implement whatever he wants to do in a way that serves him, and as a poor fat black woman with a disability, I recognize that could be anything at any time.”

The uncertainty surrounding Twitter’s future has created an opportunity for organizers to reevaluate their relationship with the platform. Social justice movements predate social media, and successful organizers are deeply creative. “This work is cobbled together from hundreds of experiences, and our tactics must continually evolve and change,” says Hamid, “Our work doesn’t stop because of Elon Musk’s Twitter – we just move on and let’s find other ways to activate, coordinate, and mobilize.


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