Thursday morning, Elon Musk has offered to buy Twitter save freedom of speech.
“I invested in Twitter because I believe in its potential to be the platform for free speech around the world, and I believe that free speech is a societal imperative for a functioning democracy,” wrote the Tesla and SpaceX executive. Billionaire – who recently acquired a 9.2 percent stake in Twitter – in a filing. “However, since making my investment, it has been clear to me that the company will neither thrive nor serve this societal imperative in its current form. Twitter needs to be transformed as a private company.”
It is not clear how this move will play out, but there is also a more fundamental question: what does Elon Musk think about free speech and who is threatening it? Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of an open society, and as governments around the world eye crackdowns on internet platforms, there is a complicated interplay between different visions of what should be allowed online. But despite his sweeping statement, Musk’s eye seems almost exclusively focused on the far smaller issue of Twitter’s own internal rules.
in 2011, Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo claimed that Twitter belonged to the “free speech wing of the Free Speech Party,” a phrase that has since been cited by critics of the platform’s calls for moderation. In the context of this era, controversies over freedom of expression primarily concerned Twitter’s relationship with governments. The platform won praise for allowing activists to organize under threats of political repression in Egypt and other countries. Costolo boasted about it his struggle with the US government on WikiLeaks-related account details investigated after leaking diplomatic cables.
In a TED interview with Chris Anderson on Thursday, Musk’s concerns were more nebulous — and directed almost entirely at Twitter itself. Musk didn’t show much appetite to fight global language restrictions — noting that “I think Twitter complies with the laws of the country should”. Instead, he raised the specter that tweets were being “mysteriously promoted and demoted” by Twitter’s sorting algorithm, which Musk said should be made public. (Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has a version is also being considered with more transparent algorithmic recommendations.)
“It’s just really important that people have the reality and the perception that they can speak freely within the confines of the law,” Musk told Anderson. “In general, I think that the more we can build trust in Twitter as a public platform, the lower the civilizational risk.”
Musk reflected a common assumption that Twitter is a “town square” that has become the primary arbiter of what people can say. But governments around the world still have a huge say in what is said and how. In the years since Costolo’s comment, online language laws have proliferated. Several countries have enacted “fake news” rules intended (in theory) to curb the spread of false information online, and some have threatened to do so ban platforms that do not match. European data protection rules introduced a “right to be forgotten” this requires platforms to remove embarrassing information posted online under certain circumstances. implemented in India a strict legal regulation for social media companies requiring local offices to appoint government contacts and at one point, Raid on the offices of Twitter.
Even within the US, which has some of the most permissive language laws in the world, Twitter’s moderators aren’t the only power at work. The platform has some of the loosest adult content standards for a major social network, however the FOSTA BEHG Act 2018 threatens the legal protections of companies if they allow content related to sex work. US copyright law enjoys a significant exception to the normal rules protecting platforms from legal liability, which is what prompted Twitter to do things like this remove stolen jokes. The way companies like Twitter interpret these kinds of rules has huge implications for users’ livelihoods and creative freedoms.
Big tech platforms just don’t do that reply the laws of the United States; They also play a role in lobbying for new ones. Jack Dorsey has made several appearances before Congress during his tenure as CEO, where he was questioned on issues including how lawmakers should change Section 230, one of the central pillars of online speech. Musk hasn’t indicated what role a newly private Twitter might play in these debates, and it’s not clear if he’s interested. We also don’t know how Musk’s version of Twitter would interact with other digital gatekeepers. For example, if Apple asked to block access to NSFW content through its iOS app – anything it’s discord pushed and other services to be done – would Twitter play along?
Far from being better equipped to protect free speech, a Musk-owned Twitter could be in a weaker position than a public one. Musk’s involvement in numerous other industries — including telecoms with Starlink, aerospace with SpaceX, and cars with Tesla — would give regulators and politicians additional leverage to pressure Twitter. That kind of leverage already has been a powerful weapon against highly vertically integrated companies like Apple, which has complied with Chinese censorship and surveillance requirements in order not to lose access to a huge market for its hardware. Musk’s businesses have the added snag that they often involve government contracts and subsidies — the kind of business that a high-profile moderation battle could jeopardize.
Twitter’s rhetoric has never been as absolutist as Costolo’s comment suggested. Even while he and other employees were still use the expressionyou respected the French and German hate speech rules by “holding back” neo-Nazi or anti-Semitic posts in those countries. The company promised to try apply rules “Tight and transparent,” but “we must comply with the laws of the countries where we operate,” Costolo admitted after a French court ordered hateful tweets to be blocked. If you’re a global company looking to make a profit, there’s a limit to how many laws you can persistently flout – there’s a reason many censorship bypass tools are open source and non-commercial.
But Costolo at least acknowledged that Twitter was dealing with a much larger world. My colleague Liz Lopatto, on the other hand, does aptly framed Musk’s takeover plans as a virtuoso Twitter troll trying to keep his favorite toy under control. And there’s only one enemy a troll truly fears: the mods.
https://www.theverge.com/2022/4/15/23025120/elon-musk-twitter-free-speech-government-censorship What Elon Musk’s Twitter “freedom of speech” promises to miss