The purchase of Twitter by billionaire Elon Musk has created a fear, based on his conception of freedom of expression, that the social network will turn into a flood of hate messages. Now, experts wait to see what the new content moderation policy will look like.
After the purchase of the platform by the owner of Tesla and SpaceX, many voices expressed concern about a possible setback on the delicate topic of its regulation.
“Mr Musk: freedom of speech is formidable, hate speech is unacceptable”, summarized the president of the American organization for the defense of civil rights NAACP, Derrick Johnson.
“The last (thing) we need is a Twitter that deliberately turns a blind eye to violent speech against users (…) in particular against women, non-binary people and others,” said the director. of technology and human rights at Amnesty International, Michael Kleinman.
Facing fake news and misinformation about covid-19 for two years, the World Health Organization (WHO) asked Elon Musk to assume his “huge responsibility” on the subject, while the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) sees in this acquisition a “threat to press freedom pluralism” and a “favorable terrain for disinformation”.
“The extreme antibody reaction of those fearing free speech speaks for itself,” Musk tweeted Tuesday on his new social network acquired for $44 billion.
American conservatives and far-right followers of President Jair Bolsonaro applauded the purchase, calling it the end of a form of “censorship”.
It remains to be seen what the richest man in the world will do with a platform that has 217 million active users. Of this total, 80% are outside the United States.
Twitter says it has struggled for years to suppress, or moderate, hate speech, or even close the accounts of personalities, as it did with former Republican President Donald Trump in January 2021. for the baseless accusations that Joe Biden stole his victory in the 2020 presidential election.
“It’s much easier to criticize the platform from the outside, saying that it doesn’t support freedom of expression, than to make it work and put in place a policy of content moderation”, warns Joshua Tucker, co-director of the Center for Networks. and Politics (CSMaP) at New York University.
According to Tucker, Musk could send a message if he opens up Twitter to “conservative political officials” like Trump, an offer he has already rejected.
“But there is a real difference between this kind of grand gesture and the daily management of the platform, where moderation mechanisms try to fight against violent messages, or threats of violence,” the expert told AFP.
On Tuesday, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, warned Twitter that “it will have to fully comply with European rules”, in particular, the Digital Services Act (DSA, Digital Services Act), which aims to compel large platforms to fight against illegal content.
Greater openness will certainly seduce those who consider the bluebird net a prison for speeches that do not comply with what is considered “politically correct”.
But “if it becomes a space for hateful content and expels journalists, Twitter will lose its value,” said Karen North, a professor of communication at the University of South Carolina’s Annenberg School.
“A good way to kill Twitter is to take it off the market and recklessly reduce content moderation,” said Paul Barrett, associate director of the Stern Center for Human Rights at New York University.
According to him, the result would be “a tsunami of spam, pornography, hate speech, from QAnon (a far-right American group), stupidity about the ‘stolen elections’, etc… Goodbye to ordinary users, goodbye to advertisers”, scored.
Elon Musk considers the opposite: Twitter is losing ground and needs to reinvent itself.