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Elon Musk axes Twitter’s ‘UN human rights team’; UN urges censorship

'#FreeSpeech is not a free pass'

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Yudi Sherman

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Yudi Sherman

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Shining a spotlight on media and government disinformation.

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November 15, 2022

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04:30 AM

Elon Musk axes Twitter’s ‘UN human rights team’; UN urges censorship

 

Among the over-4,000 Twitter employees Elon Musk has laid off since his stewardship began nearly two weeks ago are members of the company’s “Human Rights team". 

While the nature of the little-known Human Rights team’s activities is unclear, one former member who was laid off this month clarified the team was charged with carrying out the UN’s bidding. Specifically, the team was responsible for implementing the UN’s human rights agenda to protect users “at-risk in global conflicts and crises,” as well as journalists. 

“Yesterday was my last day at Twitter: the entire Human Rights team has been cut from the company,” Shannon Raj Singh tweeted on November 4. “I am enormously proud of the work we did to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights, to protect those at-risk in global conflicts & crises including Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Ukraine, and to defend the needs of those particularly at risk of human rights abuse by virtue of their social media presence, such as journalists & human rights defenders.” 

The next day, the UN’s Human Rights office tried to reclaim its influence on the platform with a series of tweets directed at Musk. The UN began by insisting that Musk protect free speech “across the globe,” and then urged Musk to censor unapproved speech. 

“As new owner of @Twitter, @ElonMusk has enormous responsibilities,” the UN office began its eight-part tweet. “UN Human Rights chief @volker_turk shares some thoughts on what Musk needs to do to protect #FreeSpeech and other rights too."

The UN insisted Musk not cave to governments pressuring Musk to censor speech, such as the European Union who warned Musk this month to “play by our rules,” including censoring “hate speech, revenge porn and harassment.” 

“Protect #FreeSpeech across the globe. Don't give in to pressure by governments to take down content or use upload filters. And report promptly and regularly on government requests that infringe on rights.” 

The UN immediately began to demand that certain types of speech be curbed. 

“There is no place for #HateSpeech on #Twitter. Human rights law is clear – #FreeSpeech does not extend to hatred that incites discrimination, hostility or violence. Twitter’s policy barring such speech is a must-have.” 

Then the government body invoked the catch-all term “disinformation,” demanding the billionaire snuff out challenges to the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“#FreeSpeech is not a free pass. Help us stop the viral spread of harmful disinformation, such as we saw during the Covid-19 pandemic in relation to vaccines. Don't amplify content that results in harm to people’s rights.” 

“Protect the right to #privacy and be open about it,” the UN continued. “#Twitter must refrain from invasive data use, and resist unjustified requests from governments.” 

The organization then demanded Twitter be transparent and implement censorship “globally” in all “languages and contexts,” before asking Musk to reinstate the platform's in-house UN Human Rights team. 

“The UN Guiding Principles on #BizHumanRights explain the human rights responsibilities of companies, and our B-Tech project works to apply those principles within the tech sector. #Twitter has been an active participant in that project. Let us continue this work.” 

 

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