Dark room in which only a smartphone lights up, with blue light and a twitter bird in the middle
Many users wonder what they should do now that the platform has lost trustworthiness due to the lack of human moderators. (Photo: Akshar Dave / Unsplash)

Ernst Schrama, associate professor at AE (L&R), is leaving Twitter. In this letter he explains why and asks TU Delft to follow his example.

Lees in het Nederlands

The takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk has caused quite a stir. He shelled out a mere USD 44 billion, and since then his curious ideas have been flying daily over the social network. The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was the subtle suggestion about the persecution of Anthony Fauci, medical advisor to the American president. In fact, Elon Musk was saying with this that he wants to give conspiracy theories a free rein, with science being viewed with suspicion. But why?  

Elon Musk makes no secret of his policy that everyone can say whatever they like on Twitter. That sounds noble, but is it really? After all, who are you talking with? While the highly coveted blue checkmarks granted some reassurance until recently (this concerned verified accounts, Ed.), that is no longer the case. Tweeps pretend to be, for example, Coca Cola and mock the company, now that the checkmarks are for sale.

The success of Twitter is and was anonymity. Many people only dare to say something if it does not appear under their own name. Are you guilty of this, and do you delete an old tweet sometimes? The answer is usually ‘yes’, and most often the reason was innocent. If in the past you really went too far according to the terms of use, then there was the penalty of suspension, temporarily or permanently, as with Donald Trump.

Let Musk feel that we do not agree with him

Should we be delighted that all previously suspended Twitter accounts can now be reactivated? Should we be pleased with the commercialisation of the blue checkmark?

In the meantime, advertisers have withdrawn from Twitter since the takeover. The company operates at a loss, almost half of the staff have been fired, and many users wonder what they should do now that the platform has lost trustworthiness due to the lack of human moderators.

Elon Musk trusts that the algorithms will continue to guarantee the network’s quality, but much needs to be done around these algorithms – for example, ones doing the promotion of tweets (so more users see them earlier) or stopping tweets (because they do not meet the terms of use). In Germany, a court case has already been instigated against Twitter.

What I find most disturbing are Musk’s latest ideas about persecuting Anthony Fauci. He is actually allowing anti-scientific ideas free rein. No algorithm can possibly cope when this kind of language comes from the network’s boss himself. Virologists like Marc van Ranst and Marion Koopmans, who were advisors during the Covid pandemic, are being deluged again with hatemail.

That is the final straw for me. I’m not putting up with this for the umpteenth time again: I am leaving Twitter. I hope that other people will follow my example. Let Musk feel that we do not agree with him. Switch to Mastodon or another platform where the policy is not determined by just one person. 

I also hope that TU Delft will switch to somewhere else and make a statement against the new policy at Twitter. Leave the old account active so that it cannot be used by a prankster. Although that may not make much difference in practice once the statement has been made.

Ernst Schrama is associate professor at the Aerospace Engineering Faculty.