Top UN official writes open letter urging Elon Musk to ensure Twitter respects human rights, following criticism of layoffs

Top UN official writes open letter urging Elon Musk to ensure Twitter respects human rights, following criticism of layoffs
The UN's human rights chief has criticized Elon Musk.Nicolas Maeterlinck/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images; Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images
  • The UN high commissioner for human rights has written an open letter to Elon Musk.
  • Volker Türk noted his "concern and apprehension" about Twitter's role as a public square.

The UN's high commissioner for human rights, Volker Türk, has written an open letter to Elon Musk, expressing his concerns over Twitter's approach to free speech.

In the letter, Türk wrote: "I urge you to ensure human rights are central to the management of Twitter under your leadership."

Türk said he valued the social network for its power for global communication, but spoke of his "concern and apprehension about our digital public square and Twitter's role in it."

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The commissioner also criticized Musk's decision to lay off Twitter's human rights staff and most of its ethical AI team, describing it as not "an encouraging start."

Türk's open letter laid out six points – most of which concerned free speech – which he described as "fundamental" to maintaining human rights. He said Twitter must "protect free speech across the globe," citing pressure from some governments to restrict free expression and calling on the company to report on such requests.


On Sunday, the day after the letter was dated, Musk announced that parody accounts that weren't clearly labeled would be permanently suspended. It followed the suspension of several verified accounts for impersonating Musk and joking about him drinking urine and getting divorced.

Twitter's new owner said "comedy is now legal on Twitter" days earlier. He has also previously described himself as a "free speech absolutist."

Musk also tweeted that his free speech commitment meant he would not ban @ElonJet, the account that tracks his private jet, despite him describing it as a "direct personal safety risk."

In his letter, Türk added that "free speech is not a free pass," and raised concerns about vaccine disinformation in relation to COVID-19. He said the law was clear that freedom of expression stopped at "hatred that incites discrimination, hostility or violence," and urged Twitter to make sure such content was removed as quickly as possible.

In the days after Musk's takeover, some accounts began testing the limits on moderation as the use of the N-word rose by almost 500%. The company's content policy has not yet changed, but Musk said he would form a council with "widely diverse viewpoints."


The letter also said user privacy must be protected from unjustified government requests in order to maintain free speech.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment made outside of normal working hours.