UN urges Elon Musk to ensure Twitter respects human rights. Source: THE GUARDIAN

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UN urges Elon Musk to ensure Twitter respects human rights

Volker Türk says reports of platform’s human rights team being laid off is ‘not an encouraging start’

Volker Türk

Volker Türk was appointed the UN high commissioner for Human Rights in October 2022. Photograph: Denis Balibouse/Reuters

Nadeem BadshahSun 6 Nov 2022 00.02 GMTLast modified on Sun 6 Nov 2022 00.12 GMT

Elon Musk has been urged by the UN to make respect for human rights central to Twitter after suggestions that as many as half of its more than 7,500 staff could be sacked.

In an open letter, Volker Türk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said that reports of the new owner laying off the platform’s entire human rights team were “not, from my perspective, an encouraging start”.

Türk said he was writing with “concern and apprehension about our digital public square and Twitter’s role in it”.

He also warned against propagating hate speech and misinformation and highlighted the need to protect user privacy, saying free speech was “not a free pass”.

Since his $44bn takeover last week, Musk has dissolved the company’s board, sacked its CEO, Parag Agrawal, along with senior managers, and began mass layoffs on Friday.

Elon Musk

Staff who face losing their jobs in the UK have been given until 9am on Tuesday to nominate a representative for a formal consultation about their employment.

Türk, who posted the open letter on Twitter, where he has more than 25,000 followers, wrote: “Like all companies, Twitter needs to understand the harms associated with its platform and take steps to address them.

“Respect for our shared human rights should set the guardrails for the platform’s use and evolution. In short, I urge you to ensure human rights are central to the management of Twitter under your leadership.”

Türk, a UN official who took up his post as the UN rights chief last month, urged Twitter to stand up for the rights to privacy and free expression to the fullest extent possible, under relevant laws, and to transparently report on government pressures that would infringe those rights.

But he warned over the viral spread of harmful disinformation, as seen during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Twitter has a responsibility to avoid amplifying content that results in harms to people’s rights,” Türk said. “There is no place for hatred that incites discrimination, hostility or violence on Twitter.

“Hate speech has spread like wildfire on social media … with horrific, life-threatening consequences.”

Jack Dorsey, the former Twitter chief executive.

Türk added that the social media company should continue to bar such hatred on the platform, while every effort should be made to remove such content promptly.

“It is vital that Twitter refrain from invasive user tracking and amassing related data and that it resist, to the fullest extent possible under applicable laws, unjustified requests from governments for user data,” he said.

Musk, whose account description on the social media platform reads Twitter Complaint Hotline Operator, has defended the mass sackings by saying employees would receive a three-month payment from the company, which he said was losing more than $4m a day.

He tweeted on Friday evening: “Regarding Twitter’s reduction in force, unfortunately there is no choice when the company is losing over $4M/day. Everyone exited was offered 3 months of severance.”

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