Many of the dismissed staff seem to have been engaged not in actually running the site, but in “content moderation”, i.e. censorship. It was widely felt that the previous regime on Twitter had pursued a very heavy-handed and partisan approach to throttling and banning accounts expressing conservative viewpoints or questioning the official narrative on Covid and lockdowns. People felt that they were constantly walking on eggshells, and many accounts have been suspended purely for the opinions expressed.
Musk has said that he will give an amnesty to all banned accounts with obvious exceptions such as illegal conduct and harassment, and they seem to be slowly returning, most notably that of former US President Donald Trump, although he has engaged in his own subtle form of trolling by not actually tweeting anything so far. Another is the satirical account The Babylon Bee.
Some people, alarmed by this sudden outbreak of free speech, have taken refuge in an alternative platform called Mastodon. Now, I don’t know much about this, and have no intention to open an account, but it appears to be a decentralised network of servers, each of which applies its own policies. I have already heard reports of heavy-handed moderation, and of someone being banned for supposedly being “a capitalist”. And surely, if the whole thing links together, there must be problems when someone on one of the more tolerant servers ends up interacting with those on one of the more censorious ones.
A platform like Twitter needs a critical mass to succeed – there is no point in being there if all you’re doing is shouting into a void. This is likely to be a problem for Mastodon, just as it was for conservative-minded people who set up accounts on Gab, Parler or GETTR. Maybe some parts of it will become a cosy echo chamber for like-minded people, but that’s really missing the point. And if you are trying to operate two accounts in parallel it becomes more like hard work and you will lose some of the spontaneity.
It must be remembered that the key point about free speech is that it needs to be extended to people with whom you profoundly disagree, and indeed whose views you may find obnoxious. If it is only allowed to those you find congenial, there is no free speech. And a key feature of Twitter and similar platforms is that you can tailor it to your own tastes by your choice of who to follow, and who to mute or block so, if you so choose, you never need to be exposed to opinions that make you feel uncomfortable.
It’s also worth mentioning that Musk has reportedly carried out a major crackdown on the exchange of child porn material through Twitter, which apparently had been widespread under the old regime, although I have to say it’s not something I’d ever noticed personally.