UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk on Saturday issued an open letter to Elon Musk, Chief Executive Officer at Twitter, urging him to “ensure human rights are central to the management of Twitter” under Musk’s leadership. The letter follows reports of the sacking of Twitter’s entire human rights team and all but two of the ethical AI team – not “an encouraging start,” said Türk.
“Twitter is part of a global revolution that has transformed how we communicate. But I write with concern and apprehension about our digital public square and Twitter’s role in it,” Türk stated in the letter.
“Like all companies, Twitter needs to understand the harms associated with its platform and take steps to address them. Respect for our shared human rights should set the guardrails for the platform’s use and evolution.”
“In short, I urge you to ensure human rights are central to the management of Twitter under your leadership,” the High Commissioner said.
The UN Human Rights Chief set out six fundamental principles from a human rights perspective that need to be front and centre in the management of Twitter:
- Protect free speech across the globe: Türk urged Twitter to stand up for the rights to privacy and free expression to the fullest extent possible, under relevant laws, and to transparently report on Government requests that would infringe those rights.
- Free speech is not a free pass: Viral spread of harmful disinformation, like that seen during the Covid-19 pandemic in relation to vaccines, results in real world harms. Twitter has a responsibility to avoid amplifying content that results in harm to other people’s rights.
- There is no place for hatred that incites discrimination, hostility or violence on Twitter: Spread of hate speech on social media has had horrific consequences for thousands. Twitter’s content moderation policies should continue to bar such hatred on the platform. Every effort needs to be made to remove such content promptly. Human rights law is clear: freedom of expression stops at hatred that incites discrimination, hostility or violence.
- Transparency is key: Research is essential to understand better the impact of social media on our societies. Maintain access to Twitter’s data through its open application programming interfaces (APIs).
- Protect privacy: Free speech depends on effective protection of privacy. It is vital that Twitter refrain from invasive user tracking and amassing related data and that it resist, to the fullest extent possible under applicable laws, unjustified requests from governments for user data.
- Languages and contextual expertise are not optional: Twitter’s responsibilities to maintain a rights-respecting and safe platform apply not just to English-language content, but globally.