Had Twitter stuck to its usual twice-yearly cadence, we would have seen a new transparency report posted at the end of January documenting the first half of 2022—as it did January 25, 2022, when it published a report covering the first half of 2021.
Twitter’s press office, which from multiple accounts does not exist anymore, did not respond to an email sent Friday afternoon. A tweet sent Friday afternoon to Musk also went unanswered even as he kept busy answering others, including a tweet about camouflaging one’s shoes in a public bathroom stall and another suggesting that the U.S. blew up Russia’s Nord Stream pipelines under the Baltic Sea.
Online civil-rights groups have long urged companies to follow the example Twitter set early on in providing transparency reports—its initial such posting, published July 2, 2012, came only two years after Google released the first transparency report and happened well before the likes of Facebook adopted the habit.
“We entrust our most sensitive, private, and important information to tech companies—they’re privy to the conversations, photos, social connections, and location data of almost everyone online,” says Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) spokesman Josh Richman. “The choices these companies make affect the privacy of every one of their users, so transparency reports are a vital way of holding companies accountable when governments try to seize our information or censor our speech.”
“Transparency reporting has been an important tool for companies to demonstrate to their users how they protect their privacy and how they push back against improper government requests for their data,” adds Isedua Oribhabor, business and human rights lead at Access Now, whose 2021 Transparency Reporting Index commended Twitter for nine straight years of reporting.
“The reports shed crucial light on whether or not tech companies have users’ backs, or if they’re rolling over and compromising users’ data,” he says. “Any company that walks away from making such reports is taking a big step backward.”
“Elon Musk seems to have replaced this with morsels of heavily processed information meant to drive engagement rather than protect users,” he says. “Musk strip-mined the core structures responsible for protecting human rights at Twitter and concentrated all decision-making power in himself, severing ties with the human rights community entirely.”
He worries that other tech firms will see Twitter tossing transparency aside as an example to follow.
“There is a big concern in the human rights community that Twitter’s silence will reverse the momentum of progress and trigger a race to the bottom in the tech industry,” he says.