Elon Musk’s impending takeover of Twitter has sparked warnings on the left that under his leadership the platform will be inundated with hate speech and misinformation, especially ahead of upcoming election cycles.
Musk didn’t provide a detailed image of the version of Twitter he plans to use, but he announced the creation of a platform focused on what he considers ‘freedom of expression’ , meaning there would be less content moderation and a high likelihood of former President Trump returning. access his once favorite account.
As the deal continues after Musk agreed to go through with his purchase of the company and a judge halted the trial in Twitter’s lawsuit against the billionaire, those changes could be fast approaching – and they worry the critics.
“Even if you don’t use Twitter, it’s going to affect you,” Angelo Carusone, president of left-leaning watchdog group Media Matters, told The Hill.
He compared Musk’s potential acquisition of Twitter to the launch of Fox News more than two decades ago, offering an alternative to balance what its founders saw as a media landscape that catered to liberals.
“That’s what Fox has become – and it’s had a profoundly distorting effect on the news media, on our society. And if you look at what Musk is saying on social media, we’re at the same time, just put updated 30 years later,” Carusone said.
“[Musk] sees Twitter, and the policies it wants to put in place and the way it wants to use the platform, as a way to balance those other social networks,” he added.
The changes Musk could make to Twitter “will begin to reshape and influence” how other platforms interact with misinformation, extremism, harassment and abuse, he said.
The billionaire Tesla and SpaceX CEO reached a deal with Twitter to buy the company for $44 billion in April, but over the summer he backed out of the deal and accused Twitter of not not provide information about spambots on the platform. Twitter denied the allegations and sued Musk to hold him accountable for his deal.
This week, Musk said he would accept his offer again and tried to have the case thrown out. Twitter is still pushing for its lawsuit against Musk, but a judge halted the case and gave Musk until October 28 to close the case or face a November trial date.
A constant throughout the five-month process has been Musk’s pledge to embrace his vision of free speech, a vision that appears to be in line with the lax content moderation measures Republicans advocate.
“I don’t do Twitter for the money. It’s not like I was trying to buy a yacht and couldn’t afford it. I don’t own any boats. But I think it’s important that people have a way to exchange ideas that’s as trusting as possible and inclusive and that it’s as trustworthy and transparent as possible,” said Musk, who previously called himself a ‘free speech absolutist,’ said in an interview with the Financial Times published on Friday.
At the same time, he appears to be trying to separate his views from those governing fringe sites that have sprung up to serve the needs of right-wing users — including Trump’s Truth Social. He called the former president’s app “essentially a right-wing echo chamber.”
“It might as well be called Trumpet,” Musk said.
Musk’s own style of using Twitter may guide how he runs the business. Throughout the on-and-off deal, he used his account on the platform to call senior executives. At some point in May, for example, he tweeted a lonely poo emoji in response to a lengthy explanation from Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal about bots.
“He himself is a prominent Twitter troll,” said Paul Barrett, deputy director of the Center for Business and Human Rights at New York University.
“He loves to insult people on Twitter and I think the fact that it’s his motivation as opposed to a clear business plan for Twitter, or even a clear ideological plan…makes it very volatile and difficult to predict.” Because I think it has a lot to do with his quirks and how he feels when he wakes up on any given day,” Barrett added.
This troll-like approach could cause Twitter to “fall back to” the “real cesspool” it was five to 10 years ago, Barrett said. As Twitter grew over the years, it implemented more moderation measures to curb harassment and other forms of hate speech.
Feminist group UltraViolet warned that Musk’s changes could particularly hurt marginalized communities online.
“If this deal goes through, Twitter will become an even more dangerous place for women, online threats of violence against black women and women of color will skyrocket, and anti-trans content will take over news feeds. users,” said Bridget Todd, director of communications for UltraViolet. said in a statement.
Musk offered the most concrete glimpse of his plans for changes on Twitter when it comes to the fate of Trump’s account.
Twitter took among the toughest measures of any tech company regarding Trump’s social media accounts after the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021 last year, putting in place a permanent ban after ruling that the former president’s tweets on the riot that day violated Twitter’s policy of glorifying violence. Company executives have repeatedly said the ban will be permanent, even if Trump runs for office again.
But Musk has other plans. In May he said he would reverse the ban, calling it a “morally wrong decision” and “senseless in the extreme”.
If Trump is allowed to return to Twitter, it would give him access to the account he used the most to post online when he was running for president and during his tenure.
It could also influence other platforms to lift their bans on Trump.
“Twitter slacking off and allowing the former president back on the platform would put pressure on other platforms to do the same,” Barrett said.
Meta, the new name for Facebook’s parent company, has already teased the possibility of letting Trump return in January. The platform said its temporary suspension of Trump would be reviewed in 2023, two years after it was put in place.
“It’s likely that Meta will restore Donald Trump’s Facebook account, but that’s not certain, there’s clearly an engagement window there. It’s a guarantee that they’ll restore his Facebook account if Twitter fact is fact,” Carusone said.
Letting Trump, or other figures who have been banned, back could play a key role in preparing for the 2024 election and in previous contests.
Carusone said Twitter’s change of hands could impact mid-term races and their outcome stories, pending the deal’s completion at its new October deadline.
“I don’t think he’s going to allow Twitter to enforce these policies from the start, even immediately. So I think the effects will certainly be less significant in the medium term than they will be for 2024, but they will be felt. Especially in races that are very close and contested,” he said.
While numbers on the left lament the potential changes, Musk’s vision for Twitter has been embraced on the right. Republicans, including Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), poised to take control of the House Judiciary Committee if the GOP wins the House in November, cheered Musk push to buy the business.
“Two things the left hates: Elon Musk and the First Amendment,” Jordan tweeted Wednesday.
Musk’s renewed takeover effort comes as online content moderation faces an inflection point.
Motivated by accusations that tech companies are censoring content with an anti-conservative bias, Republican-led states are trying to enact laws that would tie the hands of these companies when they seek to remove posts or videos. accounts that violate their policies. Florida and Texas are entrenched in legal challenges with tech industry groups over the laws, and one of the cases is expected to end up in the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, another case involving the tech companies’ controversial liability shield, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, is already set to be heard in the nation’s high court this session.
“The social media industry is now subject to a sort of legal pincer maneuver with people coming from very different orientations, but all of these approaches, these assaults threaten the way the social media industry does business – and I think Elon Musk is a third threat,” Barrett said. “He’s not legislation, and he’s not litigation, but he’s a threat via a volatile personality coming to own a major platform and possibly disrupting the general direction towards more self-regulation on the part of of this particular platform.