Twitter owner Elon Musk said early Wednesday that he spoke with the leaders of various civil rights groups about his efforts to “combat hate & harassment” — except one organization said he met with a “rogue” employee who was fired last month and another attendee blasted the mogul for unleashing “the worst of human nature.”
David Cruz, a spokesman for LULAC — the oldest Latino civil rights group in the United States — said a woman who joined the Zoom meeting claiming to represent the organization was “terminated” Oct. 22 and met with Musk “unlawfully.”
“She had no right to be there,” Cruz said in a phone interview, referring to Sindy Benavides, who identifies herself in her Twitter profile as the CEO of the organization. Benavides refuted that assertion.
Meanwhile, NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson — one of the civil rights leaders who attended the meeting — accused Musk in a letter Wednesday of having “unwittingly freed people to unleash the worst of human nature with communities of color and religious minorities bearing the greatest burden.”
Johnson wrote and signed the letter along with the leaders of the National Urban League and the National Action Network, two of the most prominent civil rights groups in the country.
The three leaders decried the “painful and shocking increase” in hate speech, including racist epithets, since Musk’s takeover of the social media giant.
Musk is a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” whose $44 billion acquisition of Twitter has stoked fears that the platform could become a content free-for-all, though he has not yet made any major changes to the company’s moderation policies.
In a tweet, Musk said he had conferred with several “civil society leaders” about Twitter’s policies, listing people such as Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League, Rashad Robinson of Color of Change, Johnson and Benavides.
Musk then reiterated that the company will be putting together a “content moderation council” to help with its decisions and that it will not bring back any users banned from Twitter “until we have a clear process for doing so, which will take at least a few more weeks.”
Talked to civil society leaders @JGreenblattADL, @YaelEisenstat, @rashadrobinson, @JGo4Justice, @normanlschen, @DerrickNAACP, @TheBushCenter Ken Hersch & @SindyBenavides about how Twitter will continue to combat hate & harassment & enforce its election integrity policies
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 2, 2022
Cruz said Benavides is not currently employed by LULAC and does not speak on behalf of the organization, which was founded in 1929 by Mexican American veterans of World War I.
“Sindy Benavides’ contract was terminated by the LULAC national board (LNO) and the national board of directors for the LULAC Institute (LNI) on October 22, 2022,” he said in email following the phone interview.
“Her meeting with Mr. Musk was wholly unauthorized and breached our agreements and repeated notifications. Ms. Benavides is, in fact, a rogue, former respected leader who has decided to place herself above the organization that trusted her,” Cruz added.
“She does not represent LULAC in any capacity before any audience, and any representations to that effect are false,” he added.
The Dallas Morning News has reported that two factions inside LULAC have been vying for power in recent months.
In a phone interview, Benavides characterized Cruz’s assertions as “blatant lies” and said the organizational conflicts would eventually be sorted out in court.
In separate interviews Wednesday, civic leaders who attended the Zoom meeting shared their impressions of Musk and said they hoped he follows through on his commitment to make Twitter a safer place for people of color and other vulnerable groups.
Robinson, the president of the racial justice group Color of Change, said in a phone interview that he told Musk he was concerned about Twitter giving a platform to users who have been removed for violating content policies, especially before the midterm elections.
Musk was “clear,” “matter-of-fact” and seemed to be listening intently during the conversation, he recalled.
Robinson explained that he is waiting to see whether Musk acts on his promises, saying: “These commitments are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of things that need to happen at Twitter. Ultimately, actions will speak louder than words.”
Jessica González, the co-CEO of the media advocacy organization Free Press, said she was “surprised” by how “genuine” Musk appeared during the meeting. But she said she is still keeping her guard up.
“The thing is,” she said, “I can’t totally trust his words because his actions have been extremely inconsistent.”