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This article was published on November 30, 2021

Twitter’s new CEO faces irresolvable tensions between free speech and moderation

Parag Agrawal will have to draw fine lines

Twitter’s new CEO faces irresolvable tensions between free speech and moderation
Thomas Macaulay
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Thomas Macaulay

Writer at Neural by TNW — Thomas covers AI in all its iterations. Likes Werner Herzog films and Arsenal FC. Writer at Neural by TNW — Thomas covers AI in all its iterations. Likes Werner Herzog films and Arsenal FC.

It’s a new era for Twitter. Jack Dorsey, the platform’s co-founder, has been replaced as CEO by Parag Agrawal, the company’s former CTO.

Dorsey said he’s resigning of his own accord, but rumors are swirling that he walked before he was pushed. Regardless, Agrawal had a low profile that may have appealed to Dorsey’s detractors.

His appointment, however, has sparked debate about one contentious topic: the balance between free speech and content moderation.

New rules

Twitter’s moderation strategy shifted during Dorsey’s stint as CEO. While the company once had a laissez-faire approach, it became more hands-on amid mounting concerns about misinformation and hate speech.

In recent years, Twitter has banned political ads, launched new misinformation warnings, and introduced a controversial “hacked materials” label. The company also famously fact-checked and then banned former President Donald Trump.

Dorsey defended the move, but expressed unease about “the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation.”

Agrawal will also have to draw lines between free expression and harmful speech.

A balancing act

The new CEO’s past comments on moderation have already sparked fierce debate.

In a 2020 interview with MIT Technology Review, Agarwal said Twitter focused more on potential harms than arbitrating truth:

Our role is not to be bound by the First Amendment, but our role is to serve a healthy public conversation and our moves are reflective of things that we believe lead to a healthier public conversation.

Conservatives and free speech activists warn the comments are a portent of growing censorship. Yet other critics are more concerned about curbing misinformation and hate speech.

Agarwal’s approach to these tensions will be a defining issue of his tenure as CEO.

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