Anxiety on Twitter at the idea of a takeover of the platform by Elon Musk

Steph Deschamps / April 15, 2022

Elon Musk's surprise offer to buy twitter has caused a wave of angst on the platform. 'If Elon Musk gets Twitter, I'm leaving the network' has become the new 'If Trump wins, I'm moving to Canada, summarized Carol Roth, entrepreneur and author of an essay on small business. The Tesla boss and richest man in the world wants to acquire Twitter to make it, according to him, a bastion of free speech.
 
He believes that content moderation goes too far, and that fewer limits should be placed on users, in the name of democracy. Twitter has become, in effect, the public square. So it's really important that people feel and have the ability to speak freely within the law, argued Elon Musk at a conference on Thursday.
  
He did not comment on the iconic case of former U.S. President Donald Trump, who will be banned from mainstream platforms in January 2021 for inciting his supporters to violence, after several warnings, removed posts and the Capitol invasion that left several people dead. I think we should just be very reticent before we remove things and very careful with permanent bans. They should be temporary, the businessman elaborated.
 
This approach delights the American conservative right and beyond. Elon Musk's interest in Twitter is the best news for free speech in years, enthused Nigel Farage, a British leader of the pro-Brexit campaign. But for many human rights activists and elected Democrats, Twitter, like Facebook or YouTube, should instead better curb misinformation, conspiracy theories, intolerance and hatred.
 
Elon Musk himself has used Twitter and other platforms to attack and silence others. He has spread misinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines. He has used Twitter to manipulate the markets and increase his already considerable fortune, reacted Jessica Gonzalez, co-director of the NGO Free Press, in a statement. Social network users should not be subject to the whims of bombastic billionaires who are detached from reality, she added.
 
This desire to moderate exchanges that are already often uncivilized also worries the employees of the Californian group, according to several press articles. Especially since Tesla is not only known for its success and profits: the Fremont factory, in Silicon Valley, has been the subject of complaints about harassment and systemic racial discrimination.
 
Millions of people, including journalists, artists and activists depend on this  platform to do their work, said Evan Greer, director of the NGO Fight for the Future, which advocates for digital rights, including free speech. The fact that we're worried about someone like Elon Musk buying it shows that we have a fundamental problem: too few companies with too much power.
 
The financial operation raises questions about the power accumulated by the big tech companies. Many American elected officials on both sides of the aisle have been calling for years for better regulation of platforms, especially to ensure more competition, without agreeing on solutions.
 
One person owning the whole company is perfect for 'freeing people from the centralized state and capitalist control, quipped media expert Parker Molloy. It should be the opposite. Twitter should be decentralized, intervened Fred Wilson, an investor.
  
Elon Musk wants to make the platform a private company, which would no longer be listed on the stock exchange, and would therefore escape even more from any external control. The contradiction between his stated intentions and his method has not escaped some experts. I will buy the public square and privatize it to save it! Try saying that out loud. It's absurd, remarked Renee DiResta, a researcher at the Stanford Internet Observatory.
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