With Twitter under Elon Musk, ‘Free Speech’ is a Dicey Issue
Elon Musk, now the owner of Twitter, is aiming for the free speech notion
The game ends for Twitter! Not remaining satisfied with a 9.2 percent stake in one of the most powerful social networks, Elon Musk had made an offer to take it over and it has been accepted after some murmur of resistance. So, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO is all over Twitter now. The question that confronts us is what the world’s richest man will do with his latest obsession, free speech? Not likely.
- Hands up for Twitter’s Responsible ML Program
- Top AI/ML Scientists You Can Follow on Twitter in 2022
While having his first stake in Twitter, Musk had expressed much concern about the importance of freedom of speech in a democracy. Alongside that, he made clear his ambition to make the platform a vehicle for it. He did not hide his ‘disappointment’ with Twitter as it, in his considered opinion, was not really oriented toward the pious task of defending free speech. But at the same time, he appreciated the “potential” Twitter has in terms of becoming a facilitating platform for ‘free speech, and he found the solution in “unlocking” such potential. The publicity showed Musk’s noble motive of calibrating democracy by giving us a gift in the form of a ‘free’ Twitter, a motive apparently less concerned with profit.
No one would argue that Twitter was a paradise of perfect information. Nor was it a paragon of free speech. It has been criticized widely for circulating misinformation on various occasions. The most recent example was its circulation of misinformation in the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. But one also has to acknowledge that Twitter would at least make efforts to right some of its wrongs. During the Russia-Ukraine war, Twitter provided some ‘compensation’ in the form of real-time open-source information about Russian intelligence activities. Another systemic instance of its righting the wrong was ‘Bluesky’— the initiative aiming to build up an “open decentralized standard for social media”. It received a favorable response. The idea was to build a “durable” web standard through open protocols in order to lighten the platform’s centralized tendency and to provide a greater voice to users and communities, including the marginalized groups, on the internet. In general, Twitter is known for generating toxic, abusive invectives but it was also making efforts to introduce “safety valves” to reduce such trends, presumably in defending free speech.
All such initiatives, however, would not convince Musk. The bone of contention might be Twitter’s perceived ‘left of center’ orientation, created by its former CEO, Jack Dorsey. Banning former US President Trump’s account was a way of Twitter expressing disgust against the Right-wing transgression. Twitter was also contemplating various techniques to prevent the sponsors of online radicalization from using the platform. These prohibitive acts may be considered by the new owner of Twitter as a ‘violation’ of free speech. Also, what is ‘misinformation’ or ‘radicalization’ remains a very relative issue? Musk by his sheer power is also entitled to his opinion in this regard. And there are ample examples in history to confirm that the idea of the most powerful man is often the dominant idea in the world.
With Twitter changing hands on the ground of ‘protecting’ free speech one point is clear: whether we like it or not ‘free speech’ tends to remain a dicey concept. With Musk at the helm of Twitter, it is now confirmed!