There is a debate around freedom of speech as Elon Musk is buying Twitter for $44 billion. On Monday, Twitter’s board of directors unanimously agreed to Musk’s offer to purchase the platform at a price of $44 billion, bringing the 16-year-old company under the control of one of the world’s richest people.
When the transaction is completed, Twitter will become a privately held company. Billionaire Musk will make the rules. Many have been asking what could change in terms of content going forward, specifically within the #BlackTwitter community. Is this the beginning of the end of #BlackTwitter, as some writers have asked?
Some Twitter users are even considering leaving over concerns that Musk’s takeover will allow misinformation, disinformation, abuse and hate to spread more on the platform without safeguards. Will former U.S. President Donald Trump be allowed to return to the platform after he was indefinitely suspended following the U.S. Capitol riot? That is the question others are asking, even though the former leader has said that he won’t return.
“Mr. Musk: free speech is wonderful, hate speech is unacceptable. Disinformation, misinformation and hate speech have NO PLACE on Twitter,” civil rights group the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) said in a statement, adding that Trump should not be allowed back on the platform. “Protecting our democracy is of utmost importance, especially as the midterm elections approach. Mr Musk: lives are at risk, and so is American democracy,” it added.
South African-born billionaire Musk had earlier criticized Twitter for not living up to free speech principles. He has more than 81 million Twitter followers, making him one of the most popular figures on the platform.
“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” Musk said in a statement Monday after Twitter’s board approved his purchase of the platform. “I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans. Twitter has tremendous potential — I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it.”
Some experts have been speaking about what Musk’s takeover of Twitter could mean for free speech: Jessica Melugin, director of the Center for Technology and Innovation at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said that the deal will either provide solutions to all free speech problems or make the platform “an unusable hellscape” of objectionable content, Forbes reported.
“Of course, nobody really knows what he’ll do and to what effect, but it is certain his efforts are preferable to the proposed government regulatory solutions,” said Melugin. “Whatever changes Musk makes will be necessarily superior to government regulation because they’ll happen on only one platform among many from which users have to choose. If his new policies make Twitter better and its users happier, other platforms can emulate them. If Musk makes decisions that make things worse, at least the consequences are confined to Twitter.
“Government regulations for content moderation, on the other hand, subject far more social media users to negative outcomes because they cover all (or all of the biggest) platforms. Better to have numerous laboratories trying different solutions to today’s content moderation challenges than a one-size-fits-all government approach.”
For Electronic Frontiers Foundation, any attempt to bar anonymous accounts on the platform would affect free speech. “Pseudonymity and anonymity are essential to protecting users who may have opinions, identities, or interests that do not align with those in power,” EFF said. “Political dissidents may be in grave danger if those in power are able to discover their true identities.”
At the moment, Black Twitter, which has helped turn the platform into one for activism and change, is not happy over Musk’s takeover. Born in South Africa, many have connected his family with the white supremacist apartheid regime. Musk’s family was rich during apartheid, but he has said that none of his family’s wealth is due to the policy.
“At its root, [Musk] wanting to purchase Twitter is not about left vs right,” activist Shaun King’s since-deleted tweets said. “It’s about white power. The man was raised in Apartheid by a white nationalist. He’s upset that Twitter won’t allow white nationalists to target/harass people. That’s his definition of free speech,” King argued.
No matter who is in charge, Amnesty International USA believes that “Twitter has a responsibility to protect human rights, including the rights to live free from discrimination and violence and to freedom of expression and opinion – a responsibility that they already too often fail.”
“We are concerned with any steps that Twitter might take to erode enforcement of the policies and mechanisms designed to protect users,” Amnesty International USA’s director of technology and human rights, Michael Kleinman, said. “The last thing we need is a Twitter that willfully turns a blind eye to violent and abusive speech against users, particularly those most disproportionately impacted, including women, non-binary persons, and others.”