The likely acquisition of Twitter by billionaire Elon Musk has sparked a debate in the United States around freedom of expression and the role of social media platforms in regulating the flow of information.
Musk had complained about Twitter’s moderation of posts he deemed hateful or classified as misinformation before his bid to take over the company, but it’s still unclear how the potential change in ownership may affect user experience. day by day.
Twitter’s board unanimously agreed to sell the platform to Musk for $44 billion on Monday, but the deal still requires shareholder approval, the social media giant said in a statement. .
Many American conservatives are cheering the prospect of a less regulated Twitterverse, with the House Republican Conference urging Musk to reinstate former President Donald Trump’s account, which was suspended indefinitely after the January 6, 2021 US Capitol riot.
But others expressed dismay that the platform allowed hate speech and misinformation to spread without safeguards.
“Mr. Musk: Free speech is wonderful, hate speech is unacceptable. Misinformation, misinformation and hate speech have NO PLACE on Twitter,” said the National Association for the Advancement of Human Rights. People of Color (NAACP), an American civil rights group, in a statement.
The group warned against allowing Trump back on the platform or allowing Twitter to become a “petri dish” for lies. “Protecting our democracy is of the utmost importance, especially as the midterm elections approach. Mr. Musk: Lives are at risk, and so is American democracy,” he added.
But Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a prominent Republican and potential 2024 presidential candidate, said Musk’s offer to buy Twitter “raises the prospect that the platform will be a place where the freedom to expression can thrive, not a tool for applying storytelling”.
Musk himself invoked “freedom of speech” after the company’s board approved the purchase on Monday.
“Free speech is the foundation of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital public square where issues vital to the future of humanity are debated,” Musk said in the same Twitter statement announcing the release. deal.
“I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating spambots and authenticating all humans. Twitter has huge potential – I can’t wait to work with the company and the user community to unlock it.
— House Republicans (@HouseGOP) April 25, 2022
Republican Congressman Jim Jordan, a staunch Trump ally, also tweeted that “free speech is making a comeback” in response to the news.
But the former president himself has ruled out returning to the social media platform, where his posts while in the White House have consistently sparked controversy – and sometimes provoked international diplomatic crises.
‘I’m not going to Twitter, I’m going to stick to the truth,’ Trump said FoxNews, referring to his own social media platform. “I hope Elon buys Twitter because he will improve it and he’s a good man, but I’m going to stick with Truth.”
For its part, the White House said it was “concerned” about the power of social networks. Press secretary Jen Psaki, however, said she would not comment on a specific transaction or any potential policy changes that may take place.
“What I can tell you is a general question: regardless of who owns or runs Twitter, the president has long been concerned about the power of large social media platforms,” she told reporters on Monday afternoon.
US President Joe Biden “has long argued that tech platforms should be held accountable for the harm they cause,” including through legislative efforts to demand more transparency, Psaki added.
“As for hypothetical politics that might happen, I’m just not going to talk about that right now.”
Amnesty International USA’s director of technology and human rights, Michael Kleinman, also said that regardless of ownership, “Twitter has a responsibility to protect human rights, including the right to live free from discrimination and violence and freedom of expression and opinion – a responsibility they already fail too often”.
“We are concerned about any steps Twitter may take to erode enforcement policies and mechanisms designed to protect users. The last thing we need is a Twitter that deliberately turns a blind eye to violent and abusive speech against users, especially those most disproportionately impacted, including women, non-binary people and others,” Kleinman said in a statement.
Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo, reporting from New York, said it’s still unclear what Musk’s potential ownership will mean for the platform. But “there’s a lot of resistance to it,” Elizondo said. “It’s the consolidation of another social media platform in the hands of a very wealthy person.”
Many progressive Democrats have criticized Musk’s wealth and the apparent ease with which he is willing to spend $44 billion to buy a social media platform, with many calling for more taxes on billionaires.
“The concept of a billion is difficult to understand, but time is a little easier to understand. 1 million seconds equals approximately 11.5 days. 1 billion seconds is about 31.5 years,” Congressman Mark Pocan wrote on Twitter.
“Elon Musk just bought Twitter for $45 billion – or in seconds, about 1,427 years. #TaxTheRich.”