He’s called himself a “free speech absolutist.”
Elon Musk has admitted that he does not have all of the answers to Twitter’s challenges. Among the most pressing is how to filter contentious content uploaded on the service.
For years, Twitter and other social networks have struggled to police potentially harmful content such as hate speech, abuse, and misinformation. Progressives and civil rights advocates argue that the platforms are not doing enough to combat objectionable content. Conservatives claim that Twitter suppresses their speech, which the company rejects.
Nobody seemed to be satisfied with how Twitter decides what gets taken down and what stays up.
Musk, the world’s richest person, has now thrown himself into the fray. On Monday, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, announced a $44 billion bid to acquire Twitter, which he intends to privatise. He’s stated that he wants looser content filtering on the site, which would have a significant impact on politics and society.
Concerns have been raised among staff and advocacy groups about whether the transaction may undermine Twitter’s attempts to remove harmful content, such as COVID disinformation. It has also prompted concerns about whether Twitter could allow banned users to rejoin the platform. After the Jan. 6 insurgency, the social network notoriously banned former President Donald Trump because to concerns that his words could inspire violence. Trump has stated that he will not return to Twitter.
“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy,” Musk said in a press release on Monday, referring to Twitter as a “digital town square” for debate. “By ‘free speech,’ I simply mean that which conforms to the law,” he tweeted on Tuesday.
(Free speech is protected by the First provision, which protects citizens from government intrusion, but that provision to the US Constitution does not apply to firms like Twitter, which are permitted to impose rules for content moderation.)
Musk is well-versed in the complexities of content control. Musk incorrectly stated in 2020 that “kids are essentially immune” to COVID-19. Children do contract the virus and can have the same symptoms as adults, albeit at a lesser incidence. The tweet did not breach Twitter’s guidelines against damaging coronavirus disinformation, according to Axios, because it was not “definitive.”
Katie Harbath, a former Facebook public policy director who now runs the firm Anchor Change, said in a Twitter direct message that she doesn’t expect substantial changes at Twitter right now. Musk, on the other hand, may devote fewer resources to content control over time, according to Harbath.
Musk, she believes, will be more active in decision-making than Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.
A Twitter spokesperson declined to go more beyond the company’s previous assertions. Twitter stated prior to the agreement that it had no plans to alter any previous policy decisions and that its employees and managers determine day-to-day decisions.
Nonetheless, advocacy groups are raising concerns about the agreement.
“We should be concerned about any powerful central actor, whether it’s a government or any wealthy individual – even if they’re an ACLU member – having such sway over the boundaries of our political speech online,” the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted. Musk is a member of the ACLU and a supporter of the organisation.