The recent purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk has fairly dramatically changed my Twitter feed as conservatives have both flocked to the site and apparently gotten some sort of boost in the algorithm. Seriously, some of the things I’m reading now are pretty inflammatory (Paul Pelosi was assaulted by his gay lover?) and also really really stupid (99% of the rest of the troll-baity commentary). It’s like they aren’t even trying to be clever or thoughtful. One idiot named “Nick something (Alpha Male)” literally posts multiple times a day that his goal in life is to teach young men to become “alpha males.” How is this guy showing up in my feed?

On the one hand, I really do firmly believe that we need to get back to a place where conservative ideas and progressive ideas are in dialogue again to find solutions that we can (mostly) all live with. I can also see that so far, this is not it.

The big change is of course because Musk believes that Twitter has been too quick to moderate “free speech,” specifically what he calls “conservatives” including humor sites like the Babylon Bee. Even when a user has incited violence, Musk feels that this should be allowed. Basically anything one is allowed to say on the street should be allowed. However, this stance has been softened slightly to appease advertisers who were starting to flee. Musk committed to them that he wouldn’t let the site become a “hellscape.” So far, it’s not quite that bad, although use of the “n” word has apparently gone through the roof as users test the boundaries of the lighter moderation.

Which brings us back to the bloggernacle, and our policies at Wheat & Tares. We have always been one of the lightest moderated sites among Mormon blogs. One reason we are lightly moderated is that we have the Like/Dislike buttons which allow users to censure the comments they dislike and take the pressure off the team to keep things cleaned up. We don’t endorse every comment (or even every post–we aren’t a monolith). We only censor when there are really bad personal attacks that aren’t corrected with a gentle reminder. We often invite our downvoted commenters to post if they have something to say that will broaden the discussion.

That’s not to say our approach is right or leads to the best outcomes. It’s always a work in progress.

Twitter has apparently been considering a dislike button. Musk likes to tinker, so we shall see what ultimately happens over there. The most important thing Twitter does is connect journalists.

Content moderation (and censoring of comments) is supposed to create a “safe space” for dialogue. Heavier moderation (like Twitter used to have) removes things like disinformation, hate speech, racist rants, doxxing, bots, porn, calls to violence, snuff videos, etc., to the extent it can. Musk is infamously on bad terms with his trans daughter and only started joking about buying Twitter when Babylon Bee (a conservative humor site) was barred after posting an anti-trans joke. So basically, this seems to be motivated by the newest conservative culture war that’s going gangbusters: the war on trans people.

What you lose by moderating too much is that those things still exist, but we aren’t seeing them and don’t realize they are prevalent. Also, it’s often unclear what is disinformation and what’s not, especially in our highly politicized country in which I recently saw a TV showing CNN and Fox News side-by-side, and you would not know that they were both contemporary news programs. There was no overlap in content or spin at all. Zero. These are two Americas.

What you lose by NOT moderating is the marginalized voices that get shouted down by the strident majority. Black Twitter was a huge thing until last week (still is, to be fair), but the rise in racist speech will change that. If you have a party and you invite black people and white supremacists, you’re probably going to have a party with just white supremacists attending.

  • What do you think is the best way to moderate content? Heavier hand or lighter touch?
  • Do you think the like/dislike buttons help or hinder a site’s vibe? Would they be a good change for Twitter?
  • Which Mormon blog does content moderation the best in your experience? What do you like about it?