November 26, 2022
Chicago 12, Melborne City, USA

Elon Musk says buying Twitter is about free speech. Does he know what that means?


Changes are coming to Twitter. And if we trust Elon Musk, those changes will transform the app into a free speech save online.

But what does it look like for your account? Even Musk doesn’t know yet, and these changes won’t come overnight (the company is expected to take months to close Musk’s $ 44 billion offer to buy).

Even if we don’t know the details, any potential change on Twitter – a platform used by nearly 400 million people, including some of the world’s most influential politicians, celebrities and public figures – will have a big impact. Meanwhile, many conservatives are hoping that Musk will lift the company’s sanctions on former President Donald Trump (for now, Trump has said he will not return to Twitter If given the opportunity, it may change). At the same time, some activists, civil rights leaders and Twitter workers are concerned that Musk’s outspoken stance on freedom of speech will undo the progress Twitter has made over the past few years in reducing harassment, hate speech and misinformation.

“The idea of ​​allowing more talk seems to be a very positive thing,” said Renee Deresta, a researcher at Stanford Internet Observatory. “The question is, how is it? [Musk] Content moderation has always existed in the interest of creating an online community. Are we going to strike a balance with this recognition? “

Musk talks a lot about the virtues of freedom of speech, but has no experience managing it on a social media platform where millions of tweets are posted daily. The billionaire gave some hints about what his overall approach might be to moderate content on Twitter. In an interview at the TED conference earlier this month, Musk said he plans to “make a mistake” in leaving the content – no matter how controversial – and only plans to remove content that violates the law, such as inciting violence. This would be a complete departure from Twitter’s current content control policies, which in recent years have been aimed at restricting hate speech, harassment and other types of content that are considered harmful on the platform.

In a press release about his Twitter acquisition this week, Musk suggested less-than-controversial changes on Twitter, including “creating open source algorithms to build trust, defeat spam bots and authenticate all people.” These are all areas that critics have called on Twitter to improve in the past, and in some cases, the company Already working Improvements So we need to see if the mask can work and how long it will take. Many of those interested in taking the lead want him to turbocharge all users to improve features such as authentication and dial what they see as Twitter’s heavy hand in controlling people’s speech online.

Meanwhile, Mask’s motivation to buy Twitter seems a bit complicated. One of the most notable aspects of this takeover story is that Musk has publicly stated that, for him, it’s not about making money, it’s about promoting freedom of speech. This free speech slogan has won the support of many conservatives who feel that Twitter and other social media companies are unfairly discriminating against them. For Mask, it’s more than that: the deal is a way to influence a major media platform used by some of the world’s leading politicians, celebrities and leaders. In the wake of Musk’s own public battle with the SEC over his tweets, Twitter’s ownership provides Musk with a valuable way to set the rules.

“If in doubt, let the speech be … let it exist. If it’s a gray area, I’d say the tweet exists, “Musk told the conference. “I think we want to be very reluctant to delete things.”

What Musk is talking about reflects the same ideology on which social media companies like Twitter and Facebook were founded: let anyone say what they want online. But in reality, almost every major platform – and even the most recent free speech dictators like Parler, Gettr, and Trump’s own Truth Social – has set some rules against things like hate speech, harassment, or inappropriate content. This is because if they do not, these platforms become a cesspool of hateful, negative or spammy content that is not good for users or advertisers. For example, when trolls target someone, they may exercise their free speech, but their intimidation techniques discourage that user from sharing their views.

“One of the things we’ve seen on every single social platform since the invention of the Internet is that some people’s freedom of speech is established to try to prevent other people from participating and gathering,” said Deresta.

In his TED interview, Musk acknowledged some limitations to the idea of ​​maintaining freedom of speech at all times. He said that in some cases, Twitter could potentially deprive the content so that it becomes less prominent in people’s feeds.

“In a case where there’s probably a lot of controversy, you don’t necessarily want to promote that tweet,” Musk said. “I’m not saying I have all the answers here.”

There are people on Twitter to find the answer to this difficult question. Currently, Twitter’s restraint and security team, which includes hundreds of employees, helps decide when to downgrade, label, or delete tweets that violate its policy. It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post.

There is also a fear that Mask’s plan to “open up” Twitter’s algorithm could prove difficult. The idea is that in cases where the company downgrades certain tweets, it should be clear what is happening to Twitter users. As Musk put it in his TED interview, it will show users that “there is no manipulation behind the scenes, either algorithmically or manually.”

This is an idea that, in theory, even some of Musk’s critics agree on content restraint, but in reality, it requires much more. For starters, Twitter has a lot of algorithms, so which one is Mask referring to? Also, how will Twitter share its proprietary technology without its secret sauce, allowing its competitors to copy its business?

We still don’t know much about how Mask will run Twitter. But what we do know is that his views on how much Twitter content should be moderated are completely different from those of his predecessors in managing the company. Properly covered, it will withstand a great deal of adverse conditions. But if handled poorly, problems like harassment, hate speech and misinformation can get worse.


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