Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin is raising alarms on Elon Musk’s recent wave of Twitter censorship, stating that the site’s barrage of account bans over the last few days are putting Twitter on “the path to authoritarianism.”
In response to a post praising Musk, Buterin said Musk was deploying a strategy he calls “central planning as overfitting,” where Musk introduces policies that are “seeming to retrofit around Elon’s views on very specific situations.”
The latest wave of censorship concerns began when Musk banned the account @ElonJets, which tracks Elon’s plane, as well as @CelebJets, which tracks the private jets of various celebrities. Such bot trackers pull publicly available information and repost it, which is legal in the U.S.
But Musk saw it as a threat to his personal privacy and safety and went one step further, banning the personal account of Jack Sweeney, the creator of the Elon Jets Twitter bot. Musk then quickly implemented a new Twitter policy that bans any “any tweets or accounts that share someone’s live location,” with the only exceptions being in relation to “a crisis situation to assist with humanitarian efforts or in relation to public engagement events.”
The bans come as a part of a backpedaling effort to curtail live location sharing despite Musk’s previous statement that he would not ban Sweeney’s tracking account in the name of “free speech.”
When one user countered that Musk was simply “responding to system inputs” by implementing the swift bans on such tracking accounts, Buterin took issue with such a justification.
“Acting ‘quickly and decisively in response to catalysts’ when the action in question is banning things is the path to authoritarianism,” Buterin said.
Buterin also criticized Musk’s censorship of Mastodon links, a competing social media website, calling the move “really bad.” It’s unclear why Mastodon links are currently banned, though Mastodon’s official Twitter account was similarly suspended for sharing links to its version of the “ElonJet” account.
Twitter did not immediately respond to Decrypt’s request for comment.
It appears that many Twitter users are against banning accounts for sharing user locations that are already public. In a poll created by Musk with over 3.1 million total votes, 59% of voters said such accounts should be unbanned “now” and not in a week as Musk has suggested.
What kind of Twitter would Buterin prefer? One that attempts objectivity instead of applying personal biases and experiences—and one that doesn’t censor competing sites.
“Good policy should be decided behind a veil of ignorance first, applied second,” Buterin said.
He also suggested that Twitter should provide users with a month’s notice before bringing any new content moderation rules into effect.
“Banning things should be done slowly and with lots of speed bumps despite the greater harm that results from that kind of approach,” Buterin said.
While Buterin is clearly against sudden and swift bans on Twitter, he isn’t necessarily in favor of tracking celebrity jets.
“The concern is that the style of decision making in these bans veers too close to the style of actions of the previous Twitter administration that people justifiably rebelled against,” Buterin said.
This isn’t the first time Buterin has critiqued powerful world figures for their behavior he sees as authoritarian. Earlier this year, Buterin vocally opposed Putin’s “zombie regime,” the war in Ukraine, and Nayib Bukele’s El Salvador, which he said is “not a very democratic government” and “actually has a lot of problems.”
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