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WASHINGTON — Elon Musk announced Tuesday that he intends to step down as Twitter’s CEO and find a successor for his job. The action comes after he asked his Twitter followers in an unscientific poll whether he should resign; more than 57 percent responded “yes.”

Musk tweeted that he would step aside “as soon as I find someone foolish enough to take the job.” He added that he would continue to run Twitter's “software and servers teams.” 

The announcement comes after nearly two months of turmoil since Musk took ownership of Twitter. In that time, slurs against people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community and certain religions have increased exponentially as Musk ditched longstanding content-moderation policies and laid off thousands of employees and contractors. His offer of amnesty to previously suspended accounts resulted in the return of neo-Nazis like Andrew Anglin, right-wing conspiracy theorists like Laura Loomer and other figures who have spread hate and disinformation to millions of followers.

Free Press is a founding member of the #StopToxicTwitter coalition, consisting of more than 60 civil-society and civil-rights groups that are urging the platform’s largest advertisers to pull their Twitter ads until the company commits to better brand safeguards and content-moderation standards. Within weeks of #StopToxicTwitter’s early November launch, 50 of Twitter’s top-100 advertisers pulled their ads and dozens of other companies curtailed spending on the platform. 

In a CNN Op-Ed published on Tuesday, Free Press Senior Counsel and Director of Digital Justice and Civil Rights Nora Benavidez laid out a series of steps Twitter should take to restore integrity to the company’s leadership and safety for its users.

Following news of Musk’s plans to step down, Benavidez said:

“We’re glad that Musk agrees with Free Press and millions of Twitter users and intends to end his reckless and erratic reign as CEO. But his successor cannot be someone cast in his mold. Any future leader of the company must understand at the most basic level that this social-media platform will succeed only when it prioritizes the health and safety of its users. 

“Musk is clearly a big part of Twitter’s problem, but as our Empty Promises report found, the social-media company was in trouble long before Musk took over. Fixing Twitter requires more than just replacing its leader. The company must reverse dangerous policy decisions Musk has made, reinvest in content moderation and enforcement, and restructure the governance of the platform.

“Twitter’s new leadership needs to undo Musk’s decision to allow COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation to spread unchecked across the social network. It needs to retire the company’s pay-to-play blue checkmark feature, which gives priority to the content and decisions of those who buy into this unfair regime. And it must cease Musk’s unwise amnesty plan that has restored multiple toxic accounts that were suspended before he took over.

“Twitter must also reinvest in moderation by bringing back the trust and safety and human rights teams that were in place prior to Musk’s mass layoffs, and it needs to beef up this force to ensure that moderation occurs in every major language. This process must include regular audits to guarantee that policies are equitable and applied consistently.

“A restructuring of Twitter’s governance and leadership must also include adding C-Suite-level executives with proven human- and civil-rights track records. This work isn’t possible without oversight from a new board of directors with diversity of thought and robust international human-rights expertise to ensure that Twitter doesn’t remain a catalyst for anti-democratic and authoritarian movements worldwide.

“Elon Musk says he is a free-speech absolutist and yet his actions show that he prefers free speech only for himself and his allies, which is why he punishes anyone he disagrees with. He rallies his online supporters to bully his critics, and manipulates the platform to serve as a megaphone for his reactionary political views. 

“It’s time to end Musk's dangerous experiment with chaos and conspiracy online. Twitter can correct course by prioritizing accountability for its users and the broader public.”

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