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Guidance for the new Twitter reality: Community, security and quality

For organizations and advocates fighting for rights, privacy and justice, the Twitter takeover and subsequent layoffs of teams dedicated to accessibility standards and combating the spread of disinformation were a wakeup call. In addition to whipsaw rule changes, this drastic downsizing is compounding questions about how Twitter’s functionality as a platform for advocacy will change in the coming months. With so much uncertainty, “wait and see” feels like an abdication of responsibility.

We prefer the words of our partner WITNESS, which recommends this course of action: “Prepare, Don’t panic.” Recently, we convened teams that work across disinformation, civil rights and tech accountability to offer the following guidance for the field.

The big question: Should we walk away? If not, what changes should we pay attention to?

We’ve seen social media companies fall short of our values in principle and practice time and again. Indeed, the whole model of supposedly free platforms that commodify attention tend to amplify the worst instincts we have as people and communities. The question of whether to walk away, however, rests on an assumption that there is somewhere else to go – a stance that is not viable for many communities that our partners work with at this moment. They don’t have the luxury of picking a new communications channel every time a platform fails to live up to their values or puts their security at risk. Many organizations and individuals have built dedicated followings on Twitter, and simply abandoning those relationships will not be sustainable or fair. People depend on those communities for information, leadership and connection. That being said, there is valid concern about the quality, safety and long-term viability of the site under Elon Musk’s ownership.

We recommend addressing some practical and strategic questions to balance the need to maintain community with concerns around safety, stability and reputation risk. 

  • Recenter strategy. Be honest about whom you are trying to reach on Twitter. What are those audiences saying? We’ve already seen groups of journalists and those in tech on Twitter publicly announce a shift to platforms like Mastodon. If you’re seeing movement from your key audiences, seriously consider setting up a presence on a new site or at least securing the same username so you can maintain consistency.  
  • Put security at the forefront. The security situation has deteriorated faster than most expected. Even with the pause on the new verification rollout, staffing shortages across Twitter mean that the site is a considerably less safe and less responsive platform than before.
    • If you work with populations at risk of harassment or those who rely on anonymity, act as if Twitter is no longer a safe space to share personal information, because it is not. We recommend shifting to hosting sensitive communications via mailing lists and other platforms for the time being.
    • Practice digital hygiene. Prepare for anything associated with your account to get into the wrong hands or become public. Clearly map out who has access to your accounts. Avoid linking your bank account or critical information. Clean out your DMs. And clearly document and limit who has access to your organization’s Twitter credentials. Please note: Given the issues with two-factor authentication no longer working, we recommend against making any major changes until those issues are resolved.  
  • Keep an eye on the user experience. Twitter laid off a good number of its teams that ensure site reliability. This article offers insight into what the user experience could look like over the coming months, including widely fluctuating follower counts, visual and other glitches, and failure to load content. We’re watching reliability as one of the key issues to determine whether Twitter remains a valuable channel.
  • Don’t pay to play. Given how chaotic the new features rollout has been on Twitter, we recommend steering clear of any substantial investment in Twitter features or ads for the time being. We fully expect things to continue to change, and issues with reliability as well as content moderation are not at all ruled out yet. Some organizations are even calling for a boycott of ads on the platform to send a clear message to Musk: “Follow through on your commitments to protect Black users from hate, harassment and disinformation.”
  • Protect your following with media literacy resources. The most immediate consequence of many changes has been the proliferation of scammers, people impersonating notable figures and companies, and account hijacking. We recommend sharing media literacy tips (like looking for context clues) with your audiences as seen in the image here
  • Ensure you can stay connected to your audiences. Regardless of what happens, it will benefit you to ensure that your audiences know where to find you on multiple platforms. Now is a good time to promote your newsletter lists, Linkedin company pages, Instagram or TikTok accounts – make sure your audiences can find you easily. 
  • Download your Twitter archive while you still can. For many organizations and advocates, your community, advocacy efforts and organizational wins have lived on this platform. You can preserve these moments by downloading your Twitter archive.  

Let’s be clear: This is not just about Twitter’s new owner. Yes, he is an anti-democratic, billionaire troll; he’s brought chaos to the platform; and he’s threatened to disrupt valuable communities. But for advocates who have been pushing for social media platforms to do the right thing and end the spread of hate and disinformation on their platforms, this is par for the course. For years, advocates have urged platforms to take concrete steps to better moderate content to protect our communities and our democracy – and they haven’t listened.

So, should the latest news from Twitter really change how we do business as agents of social change? It depends on what you’re trying to achieve and how, and if, the platform can be helpful for your cause. The reality is that we just don’t know where this is going. Advocates should consider taking these steps to prepare for an eventual loss of service or the need to fully shift away from Twitter. The guidance in this blog will help ensure that whatever you decide, it is rooted in values-aligned strategy.

This entry was posted on Thursday, November 17, 2022 at 11:42 am and is filed under Digital strategy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.