Elon Musk says the purchase of Twitter is linked to freedom of speech.  Does he know what that means?

Elon Musk says the purchase of Twitter is linked to freedom of speech. Does he know what that means?

Changes are coming on Twitter. And if Elon Musk is to be believed, those changes will transform the app in the name of preserving free speech on the internet.

But what exactly does it look like or mean for your account? Not even Musk knows yetand these changes will not come overnight (it is expected that it will take several months to close Musk’s $ 44 billion offer to buy the company).

Even if we don’t know the details, any potential change to 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. Many conservatives are already hoping that Musk will lift the company’s ban on former President Donald Trump (for now, Trump said he would not return to Twitter if given the opportunity, but that could change). At the same time, some activists, civil rights leaders and Twitter employees are concerned that Musk’s absolutist approach to freedom of speech will undo the progress Twitter has made in recent years in reducing the prevalence of harassment, hate speech and misinformation.

“The idea of ​​allowing more speech sounds like a very positive thing,” said Renee DiResta, a researcher at Stanford Internet Observatory. “It simply came to our notice then [Musk] will you balance that with acknowledging that content moderation has always been in the interest of creating an online community? ”

Musk has talked a lot about the virtues of free speech, but has no experience in managing it on a social media platform where hundreds of millions of tweets are published on the day. However, the billionaire offered a few clues as to what his overall approach to moderating content on Twitter might look like. In an interview with TED conference earlier this month, Musk said he plans to “make a mistake” by leaving content up – no matter how controversial – and just removing content that clearly violates the law, such as incitement to violence. This would be a sharp departure from Twitter’s current content moderation policy, which in recent years has aimed to limit hate speech, harassment and other types of content on a platform it deems harmful.

In a statement on Twitter this week, Musk also suggested less controversial changes on Twitter, including “making open source algorithms to increase 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 companies already working on improvements. So we’re going to have to see if Musk can do it and how long it will take. Many of those eager for him to take the helm want him to include enhancements such as authentication of all users and to pull off what he sees as Twitter’s stubbornness in moderating people’s speech online.

Meanwhile, Musk’s motivations for buying Twitter seem a bit complicated. One of the most striking aspects of this takeover saga is that Musk has publicly said that it is not about making money, but about promoting freedom of speech. This slogan of freedom of speech has earned Muska the support of many conservatives who believe that Twitter and other social networks unjustly discriminate against them. For Musk, it is more than that: this agreement is also a way to influence the main media platform used by some of the most important politicians, celebrities and leaders in the world. Date Musk’s own public battle with the SEC through his tweets, owning Twitter provides a valuable way for Musk to be the one to set the rules.

“If you are in doubt, let speech postoji let it exist. If it is a gray area, I would say let the tweet exist, ”Musk said at the conference. “I think we want to be very reluctant to erase things.”

What Musk is talking about reflects the same ideology on which social media companies like Twitter and Facebook are based: Let anyone say what they want online. But in practice, almost every major platform – and even newer absolutist platforms of free speech such as Parler, Gettr and Trump’s own Truth Social – have introduce some rules against things like hate speech, harassment, or inappropriate content. This is because if they do not, these platforms tend to turn into septic tanks of hate content, negative or unwanted content that is not good for users or advertisers. For example, when trolls overwhelm someone with targeted harassment, they can take advantage of their freedom of speech, but their intimidation tactics also potentially discourage that user from sharing their views.

“One of the things we’ve seen on every social platform since the invention of the internet is that some people’s freedom of speech is being used to prevent other people from participating and gathering,” DiResta said.

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

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

Twitter really has people who will find answers to these difficult questions. Currently, Twitter’s moderation and security teams, which reportedly includes hundreds of employees, helps make decisions about when to downgrade, tag, or delete tweets that violate its policies. It is unclear what Musk plans to do with these teams, and some in the company are worried that they will reduce it.

There are also fears that Musk’s plan to “open” Twitter’s algorithm could prove difficult. The idea is that in cases where a company drops certain tweets, Twitter should make it clear to users what is happening. As Musk said in his TED interview, this would show users that “there is no behind-the-scenes manipulation, either algorithmic or manual.”

This is an idea that, in theory, even some of Musk’s critics of content moderation agree with, but in practice much more needs to be clarified. For starters, Twitter has a lot of algorithms, so which one does Musk mean? Also, how would Twitter share its proprietary technology without revealing its secret sauce, allowing its competitors to copy its business?

We still don’t know much about how Musk would run Twitter. But what we do know is that his views on how much Twitter should moderate content differ drastically from the views of his predecessors in running the company. If treated well, it could result in a more open, powerful area of ​​conversation on one of the most influential social networks in the world. But if he is treated badly, it could mean that problems like harassment, hate speech and misinformation will only get worse.

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