Elon Musk’s impending takeover of Twitter has prompted warnings on the left that under his leadership the platform will be inundated with hate speech and misinformation, especially ahead of the next election cycles.
Musk hasn’t provided a detailed picture of the version of Twitter he plans to run, but he foreshadowed the creation of a platform focused on what he considers “free speech,” meaning there would be less content moderation and a strong chance that former President Trump regain access to his once favored account.
With the deal moving fast after Musk agreed to go ahead 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 have critics worried.
“Even if you don’t use Twitter, this is going to affect you,” Angelo Carusone, president of the left-wing watchdog group Media Matters, told The Hill.
He compared Musk’s possible takeover 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 catering to liberals.
“That’s what Fox became, and it had a profound distorting effect on the media, on our society. And if you look at what Musk says about social media, we’re in the same moment, just updated 30 years later,” Carusone said.
“[Musk] looks at Twitter, and the policies that 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 “are going to start reshaping and influencing” how other platforms engage with misinformation, extremism, harassment and abuse, he said.
Billionaire Tesla and the CEO of SpaceX reached a deal with Twitter to buy the company for $44 billion in April, but over the summer backed out of the deal, accusing Twitter of not being forthcoming with information about spam bots on the Internet. the platform. Twitter denied the allegations and sued Musk to hold him accountable for his deal.
This week, Musk said he would again accept her offer and tried to get the case dismissed. Twitter is still pushing for its trial against Musk, but a judge has halted the case and given Musk until October 28 to close the deal or face a November trial date.
A constant throughout the five-month process has been Musk’s promise to embrace his vision of free speech, one that appears to be in line with the lax content moderation measures that Republicans have been advocating.
“I’m not doing Twitter for the money. It’s not like you’re trying to buy a yacht and can’t afford it. I don’t have ships. But I think it’s important that people have an inclusive and highly trusted medium to exchange ideas and that it’s as trustworthy and transparent as possible,” 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 point of view from that of fringe sites that have sprung up to cater to right-wing users, including Trump’s Truth Social. He called the former president’s app “essentially a right-wing echo chamber.”
“Might as well be called Trumpet,” Musk said.
Musk’s own Twitter usage style may guide how he runs the company. Throughout the intermittent deal, he used his account on the platform to call top executives. At one point in May, for example, tweeted a lone poop emoji in response to a lengthy explanation from Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal about bots.
“He’s a top-tier Twitter troll himself,” said Paul Barrett, deputy director of New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.
“He loves to insult people on Twitter and I think the fact that that’s his motivation rather than a clear business plan for Twitter, or even a clear ideological plan…makes the situation very volatile and difficult to forecast. Because I think a lot of it has to do with his whims and how he feels when he wakes up on a given day,” Barrett added.
That troll-like approach could lead Twitter to “regress” back to the “real cesspool” it was five or 10 years ago, Barrett said. As Twitter grew in those years, it implemented more moderation measures to curb harassment and other forms of hate speech.
The feminist group UltraViolet warned that Musk’s changes could especially hurt marginalized online communities.
“If this deal goes through, Twitter will become an even more dangerous place for women, threats of online violence against Black and women of color will skyrocket, and anti-trans content will take over Twitter feeds. users,” said Bridget Todd, director of communications for UltraViolet. she said in a statement.
Musk has offered a more concrete look at his plans for changes at Twitter as it relates to the fate of the Trump account.
Twitter took between the strictest measures of any technology company regarding Trump’s social media accounts after the attack on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021 last year, establishing a permanent ban after considering that the former president’s tweets about the riots of that day they violated Twitter’s policy of glorifying violence. Company executives repeatedly insisted the ban would 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 bad decision” and “foolish in the extreme.”
If Trump is allowed back on Twitter, it would give him access to the account he used the most to post online when he was running for president and while in office.
It could also influence other platforms to lift their bans on Trump.
“Twitter relaxing and allowing the former president to return to the platform would put pressure on the other platforms to do the same,” Barrett said.
Meta, the new name for Facebook’s parent company, has already teased the prospect of letting Trump back in January. The platform said its temporary suspension of Trump would be re-evaluated in 2023, two years after it was implemented.
“Meta is likely to restore Donald Trump’s Facebook account, but it’s not certain, there’s clearly a compromise window there. It’s a guarantee that they’re going to restore your Facebook account if Twitter does it, it’s a given,” Carusone said.
Allowing Trump, or other figures who have been banned, to participate again could play a key role in the run-up to the 2024 election and in previous contests.
Carusone said Twitter’s change of hands may affect interim races and narratives about their results, pending completion of the deal at its new October deadline.
“I don’t think I’m going to let Twitter enforce those policies from the start, even right away. So I think the effects will be smaller, certainly, in the midterms than in 2024, but they will be felt. Especially in races that are very tight and contested,” he said.
While figures on the left lament the potential changes, Musk’s vision for Twitter has been embraced by 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’s decision. push to buy the company.
“Two things the left hates: Elon Musk and the First Amendment,” Jordan tweeted on Wednesday.
Musk’s renewed takeover effort comes as online content moderation faces a tipping point.
Motivated by accusations that tech companies are censoring content with an anti-conservative bias, Republican-led states are seeking to enact laws that tie the hands of those companies when they seek to remove posts or accounts that violate their policies. Florida and Texas are entrenched in legal challenges with tech industry groups over the laws, with one of the cases expected to wind up before the Supreme Court.
At the same time, another case involving the controversial tech company liability shield, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, is already scheduled to be heard by the nation’s highest court this session.
“The social media industry is now subject to a kind of legal clampdown with people coming from very different orientations, but all those approaches, those attacks threaten the way the social media industry does business, and I think that Elon Musk is a third threat,” Barrett said. “He is not legislation, and he is not litigation, but he is a threat through a volatile personality who becomes the owner of a major platform and possibly disrupts the general direction toward more self-regulation by that particular platform.