The aftermath of the last major election cycle in the United States played out like a car crash on Twitter. In late 2020 and January 2021, as Donald Trump riled up his supporters through his Twitter account after roundly losing the presidential election, the social media company felt paralyzed about how to act. It was only after Trump used his Twitter account to direct a mob to storm the US Capitol, seemingly with the aim of taking enemy politicians hostage, that the platform decided to move.
Until September, Edward Perez was director of product management at Twitter, overseeing the product team devoted to civic integrity. Joining the company in September 2021, after more than three decades working in election integrity, Perez’s role was to keep Twitter safe during times of great upheaval—such as elections—from a product perspective. And as Musk guts Twitter of its staff and allows users to pay to get a coveted blue check on the platform, Perez feels he has to speak out.
“I really am concerned that it feels like the drama around corporate takeover is sucking up all the oxygen in the room,” says Perez, who is now a board member at the OSET Institute, a nonpartisan group devoted to election security and integrity. That focus on the Musk psychodrama
“If one were seeking to wreck the civic integrity of Twitter and diminish its role in the public sphere, you would take all of the actions that Musk is currently taking,” says Steven Buckley, a lecturer in media and communications specializing in US politics and social media at City University, London. “The firing of content moderators and the pay-for-verification plans, combined with Musk’s churlish, childlike tweeting, simply diminishes what prestige Twitter has as a public forum.”
For Perez, the matter at hand isn’t simply the job losses that have decimated his former coworkers, nor the ability for people to say what they want on Twitter. It’s about upholding and protecting democracy. “It’s not entirely clear to me—particularly in the political context—that Elon Musk fully understands the degree of social responsibility that rests on his shoulders, and the very real harm, political harm, political violence, and division that can come from social media platforms.”