As Elon Musk and Twitter are sealing the deal on his $44 billion purchase of the social media platform, many have questioned what could change in terms of content going forward. Upon completion of the transaction, Twitter will become a privately held company – with Musk making the rules, yet with little changing in the way of regulation from Washington.
“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 on Monday. “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.”
Various experts offered their assessment of what we might expect:
Will Rinehart, of The Center for Growth and Opportunity, suggested the “about-face” by Twitter was quite telling. “It was only when Musk secured financing to the tune of nearly $47 billion that the board began to seriously consider his offer. Indeed, Musk was able to cobble together a package in just a week, showing how much interest there is in having a new direction at Twitter. But it also shows that Twitter is vulnerable to a potential competitor. Tech firms like Twitter truly aren’t as unassailable as people think.”
Jessica Melugin, director of the Center for Technology and Innovation at the Competitive Enterprise Institute added that the deal will either solve all free speech problems or turn the social media platform into “an unusable hellscape” of objectionable content.
“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,” explained 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.”
Some have suggested it won’t be a free-for-all of anything goes, but will level the playing field for everyone.
“Twitter, along with other notable big tech platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and Amazon, have for years engaged in such tactics as shadow-banning, censoring, cancelling, and de-platforming anyone or any group that went against their prescribed ideology,” said Tom Garrubba, vice president of cybersecurity research collective Shared Assessments.
“Their claims of doing such ranged from cries of ‘saving democracy’ to ‘fake news’ or that reports were from ‘foreign interference,’ have raised collective eyebrows for quite some time. This has been noticed by all but those who refuse to look beyond the borders of the D.C. beltway or large metropolitan coastal cities,” Garrubba continued. “Funnily enough, these same beltway broadcasters and tech giants who have trumpeted their dismay for Elon Musk – who is a huge free speech advocate – in taking over such a prominent information conduit as Twitter, had little to no rebuke when Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, purchased the Washington Post. Since these tech giants have rapidly expanded the size of the market square, ideology should have no place in determining what can be said and who can be heard.”
Ron Bradley, vice president of Shared Assessments, also added, “With the human element being the weakest link in the cybersecurity chain, I applaud the intent to enhance authentication on the Twitter platform. This change can’t come soon enough and will greatly impact spam bots and other modes of false information.”