Editor’s Note: Nora Benavidez is the senior counsel and director of digital justice and civil rights at Free Press, a media and technology justice advocacy organization. Free Press is a founding member of the #StopToxicTwitter coalition. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.

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Last week, Twitter suspended the accounts of several journalists who had been closely covering its new owner, Elon Musk. Then, Musk offered to allow several of the blocked accounts to return if they agreed to delete tweets that he falsely claimed shared his location. Over the weekend, the company banned links to rival platforms like Mastodon, only to abruptly reverse the decision.

Nora Benavidez

So when Musk asked his followers Sunday night in an unscientific poll whether he should step down as the head of Twitter, it likely wasn’t surprising to many that more than 57% of respondents answered “yes” – though that probably wasn’t the result Musk expected from a site that’s home to some of his most ardent fans.

We at Free Press agree that Musk must step aside. But his replacement as CEO needs to be someone who understands at the most basic level that this social media platform will succeed only when it puts the health and safety of its users before the whims of one erratic and reckless billionaire.

In the nearly two months since Musk took over at Twitter, slurs against the LGBTQIA+ community, people of color and certain religions have skyrocketed, according to the Center for Countering Digital Hate and the Anti-Defamation League, as Musk has ditched longstanding content moderation policies (such as the ban on Covid-19 misinformation) and laid off thousands of employees. Even many former Musk supporters have lost confidence in his ability to lead Twitter out of its current chaos – chaos that he has created.

His amnesty to previously suspended accounts has given us the return of neo-Nazis like Andrew Anglin, right-wing activists like Laura Loomer and other figures who have spread hate to millions of followers.

Shortly after Musk took over, more than 60 civil rights groups formed the #StopToxicTwitter coalition, aimed at urging the platform’s largest advertisers to pull their Twitter ads until the company committed to better brand safeguards and content moderation standards. Within weeks, 50 of Twitter’s top 100 advertisers pulled their ads or announced they would do so, and dozens of other companies curtailed spending on the platform.

Musk is clearly a big part of the problem, but fixing Twitter requires more than just replacing its leader. It requires a series of measures to reverse dangerous policy decisions Musk has made, reinvest in content moderation and enforcement, and restructure the governance of the platform.

With regard to reversals, Twitter’s potential new leadership needs to undo its decision to allow Covid-19 misinformation and disinformation to spread unchecked across the social network. They need to retire Twitter’s pay-to-play blue checkmark feature, which allows verified users to post longer videos and have their content prioritized at the top of replies, mentions and searches. And they must cease Musk’s “general amnesty” plan on 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. It also needs to submit to regular audits to guarantee that policies are equitable and applied consistently.

A restructuring of Twitter’s governance and leadership must include C-suite-level executives with proven human and civil rights expertise. This work isn’t possible without oversight from a new board of directors with enough diversity of thought and international perspective to ensure that Twitter doesn’t become a catalyst for anti-democratic and authoritarian movements worldwide. Even though Musk owns the company (for now), he needs to recognize that his erratic approach to running it is bad for business and for the platform’s diverse community of users. If he genuinely wants Twitter to succeed, he must let others better situated with expertise to take charge.

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    Musk says he is a free speech absolutist, and yet his actions betray this. He has not made Twitter more equitable, nor the content on the platform more diverse. He punishes speech he dislikes, possesses a large and vociferous fan base – some of whom eagerly attack his detractors online – and has removed all forms of accountability to the public.

    When Musk first announced his plans to take over Twitter, he pledged in an SEC filing to transform the platform to better serve “a functioning democracy.” But his actions since have shown that he is helping kill off free speech and democracy in the name of saving it.

    The task of cleaning up the mess Musk has made will require far more than just a new CEO. But getting rid of Musk is a start.