Since it was announced that Elon Musk had bought the Twitter platform for US$ 44 billion, on Monday (25), the subject dominates not only the American news but also the discussions on social networks. While one group celebrates the acquisition, as they believe it will protect the right to freedom of expression, another fears that the billionaire will have excessive control over political and social debate.
Twitter is a hugely outreaching platform for important discussions that can shape policy and behavior. The network is a digital public square with some 330 million users — 77 million in the United States alone — where anyone can voice their opinion and speak to some of the most powerful people on the planet.
Created in 2006, the network started with few rules about published messages. With time and greater online engagement, the rules have become increasingly extensive and comprehensive. In recent years, it has become common for users to be suspended, or even banned, for posting messages that cast doubt on the effectiveness of Covid vaccines, the dangers of climate change, or question the diversity of genders, for example.
Two days after the Capitol invasion in January 2021, Donald Trump was banned from Twitter. The controversial former President Trump was active on the platform and it was largely thanks to Twitter that he got so many voters.
For now, Trump says he has no interest in returning to the network, especially since he launched a competing platform: Truth Social. This week, Trump’s platform is in first place among the most downloaded apps, with Twitter in second place.
Musk tweeted about it on Wednesday (27) and took the opportunity to criticize the name of the rival platform that he said was “terrible” and suggest that the name should be “Trumpet”, in a play on words with the musical instrument trumpet and the animal expression of Trump’s esteem.
What freedom of expression?
The suspicion that Twitter only limited the freedom of expression of users not aligned with the company’s liberal policies grew stronger and stronger, being supported even by Musk.
The entrepreneur specifically condemns the fact that, just weeks before the 2020 presidential election, the platform censored the release of a New York Post story exposing messages found on a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden, son of the Democratic candidate. The messages indicated Joe Biden’s involvement in an influence-for-money exchange scheme with companies in countries such as Ukraine and China, as well as other content that could harm the Democrat’s campaign.
At the time, the Russians were accused of having planted the fake laptop. After the election, the laptop was confirmed to be legitimate, and the computer is now part of an FBI investigation into Hunter Biden’s activities.
Musk declares he opposes any censorship that goes beyond what is stipulated by law and promises that he will return the network to its original form. The right to free speech is very broadly guaranteed by the US Constitution.
While Musk is being feted by conservatives on Twitter, he is being targeted by progressives who even accuse him of racism.
Many – especially members of the progressive American media – fear that a Twitter with fewer rules could sow hate speech and believe that having the richest man on the planet in charge of the public square poses a threat to the democratic process.
However, critics of the billionaire do not complain that liberal Jeff Bezos, the world’s second richest man, runs the mighty Washington Post, as well as the biggest online store, Amazon.
Musk says he has no political ends
The entrepreneur is not particularly interested in politics, despite having contributed more to Democrat campaigns than Republicans.
He says he didn’t make this purchase with the intention of making money, but only because he wants to promote free speech with an inclusive platform and has even tweeted that he hopes to see his biggest critics online.
Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, who has already admitted in an interview that the company has a left-leaning bias, celebrated the sale to Musk by tweeting that he believes this is the right path. The company’s employees are not very happy with the new boss. The tension was even more evident after Musk publicly criticized the company’s director of policy and security, Vijaya Gadde.
Musk argues that his goal is to have a neutral and trusted social network. “For Twitter to be trusted by the public, it needs to be politically neutral, which means pissing off both the far right and the far left alike,” said the platform’s new owner.
But it remains to be seen how Twitter will fare under the new administration. Musk has a good relationship with China, an important market for his companies. Only time will tell if Musk will really prioritize freedom of expression, even if it upsets his big Asian client.