Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press. The opinions expressed here are his own.
Since taking over the company, Elon Musk has repeatedly called himself Twitter’s Chief Twit and the operator of Twitter’s complaint hotline. But could he soon add another title – Chief Saboteur?
Thursday morning, Platform Casey Newton tweeted this “[a]According to posts shared on Twitter Slack, Twitter’s CISO, Privacy Officer and Compliance Officer all resigned last night. The posts seemed to indicate that the company was concerned about the rapid changes being pursued by Musk – including mass layoffs, vetting manipulations and the promise of a content advisory board that (in Musk’s case) own words) “avoiding the need” for “much of the content currently in place” – could be “extremely harmful to our users” and could lead to potential violations of the company’s obligations under a consent decree of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Outgoing leaders include Lea Kissnerwho held the position of Director of Information Security.
“All of this is extremely dangerous for our users,” the message read. “Given that the FTC can (and will!) fine Twitter BILLIONS of dollars pursuant to the FTC’s consent order, which is extremely detrimental to the longevity of Twitter as a platform. Our users deserve so much better than this.
—Casey Newton (@CaseyNewton) November 10, 2022
“Given that the FTC can (and will!) impose BILLIONS of dollars in fines on Twitter pursuant to the FTC’s Consent Order,” read one of the posts, this is “extremely prejudicial to Twitter’s longevity as a platform Our users deserve so much better than this.
The edge Alex Heath posted about the messages a few minutes after Newton’s tweet, and the New York Times reported that the resignations came just “a day before the deadline for Twitter to submit a compliance report” to the FTC. The FTC, for its part, released a statement saying “[we] are following recent developments on Twitter with deep concern. No CEO or company is above the law, and companies must follow our consent decrees,” by Washington Post technology policy journalist Cat Zakrzewski. “Our revised consent order gives us new tools to ensure compliance, and we’re ready to use them.”
But will the FTC, in fact, step up the urgency of its investigation into whether the platform violates the consent decree? Earlier this year, when former Twitter security chief turned whistleblower Peiter “Mudge” Zatko filed a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Washington Post reported that “chronic underfunding and understaffing have left Silicon Valley’s top government watchdog without staff or technical expertise to monitor executive orders and issue fines when they’re not followed.”
On the other hand, the FTC fined Twitter $150 million earlier this year to “address allegations that it misused the email address and phone numbers it had collected to target advertising”, according to the Job, and there is evidence that the Twitter deal is already under federal investigation. And former FTC officials believe the agency is on the case – “I would say with 100% certainty that they have opened an investigation,” said David Vladeck, head of the consumer protection division. of the FTC from 2009 to 2012 The New York Post following Zatko’s revelations. Eileen Harrington, former executive director of the FTC, agreed. And in September, FTC Chairman Lina Khan told the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights that the agency intended to ” strengthen” its enforcement practices against companies that treat its “orders as suggestions”.
Twitter is already supposed to be under the microscope for the next two decades due to its previous failures. But perhaps more importantly, the world’s richest man has a history of flaunting regulatory agencies — he called SEC regulators “bastards” at a conference earlier this year, and in 2018, he said rather bluntly, “I don’t respect the SEC,” after he was fined $20 million for misleading Tesla investors in his public communications, including on Twitter.
Of course, FTC law enforcement will have to weigh the evidence before acting. “Musk is used to playing fast and loose with regulatory mandates, and hasn’t generally suffered a lot of consequences for it,” Justin Brookman, director of technology policy for consumer reports, said. “That said, the FTC shouldn’t just prosecute him for the sake of prosecuting him – there has to be a breach of order. A breach of order seems more likely these days given today’s departures. ‘today and the general chaos and the direction of the company, but can not be assumed or fabricated.
Twitter can be a true test of the FTC’s resolve. Musk clearly believes he is above the law – if US institutions mean anything, regulators should be looking into him and his new venture with urgency and vigor, and the FTC should be prepared to do something about it. him an example if violations are discovered.
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media company concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was executive director of the NYC Media Lab. He spent more than a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & Innovation. He is a research associate and assistant professor at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. The opinions expressed here are his own.