The author is International Policy Director at Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center
After weeks of speculation about the style and influence of the alleged new owner, it is now unclear whether Elon Musk will actually buy Twitter. After announcing a $44 billion offer, he subsequently complained about it Number of Fake Accounts on the social media platform, saying the deal will not “move forward” until Twitter provides satisfactory data on the extent of the problem.
However things play out, the doldrums allow anyone excited or concerned about the prospect of the world’s richest man owning a powerful online platform to take stock. Musk certainly enjoys tweeting about what he would do if he took over the social media of choice for politicians, journalists, and activists. But joking tweets won’t erase the difficult decisions that come with curating online speech. Musk could benefit from catching up on some of the lessons we’ve already learned about platform governance.
He vowed to run Twitter like a “free speech absolutist,” including by return of Donald Trump’s account, his megaphone. He then went on to say, “By freedom of expression, I mean simply what is in accordance with the law. I am against censorship that goes well beyond the law.”
Here he will encounter difficulties and will have to make compromises. The two statements are clearly contradictory. Most Twitter users are not Americans living under US protection First amendment.
Many laws around the world aim to restrict freedom of expression, or at least to specify the conditions under which freedom of expression can be restricted. Governments, both democratic and non-democratic, are striving for more legal control over what can and cannot be said and shared online. We see highly restrictive laws in autocracies like Saudi Arabia. Access to the platform is blocked in Iran and Myanmar. And last year, Twitter lost a complex lawsuit in India over liability for illegal content posted by users.
Ironically, by announcing that he will respect national law rather than universal human rights principles, Musk will end up supporting the suppression or restriction of a great deal of speech in many parts of the world.
In the US, it likely means going beyond the minimum legal speaking requirements to engage a wide range of users and make them feel welcome on Twitter. The spread of conspiracy theories, racially discriminatory practices, or foreign interference in the democratic process have all done well-acknowledged harm. Protecting democratic and civil rights, public safety and health has prompted social media platforms to restrict hateful, misleading but formally legal expression. It may turn out that what works for human rights is good for business in the end.
The EU recently formalized such requirements and agreed on a new law that Digital Services Act. It clarifies the responsibility of platform companies like Twitter when dealing with harmful language. Transparency and accountability will be strengthened to deal with everything from selling illegal goods to hiding important data from academic researchers.
The legislation also reminds us that managing social media platforms involves more than just addressing language issues. Given the size of the EU as a market, DSA is likely to inspire corporate behavior across the bloc.
In an awkward Video, Musk and EU Commissioner Thierry Breton said they agreed on the merits of the new European rules. However, one thing is certain: the DSA is not intended to guarantee the absolutism of freedom of expression.
Last weekend, American and European heads of state and government met in Paris for the Transatlantic Trade and Technology Council. Last month they signed a declaration on the future of the internet, essentially committing them to governing it more democratically.
Defending the fundamental principle of freedom of expression is one thing; Dealing with the many issues involved in gaining the trust of a large diverse group of users in a social media platform is quite another. The mere assertion that the language is protected does not answer the neuralgic questions of how exactly this should be done online.
Lawmakers in many democratic countries have moved beyond the false dichotomy of absolutism over free speech versus top-down control over speech. Now Musk, or any future social media company owner, is well advised to catch up.
If Elon Musk does buy Twitter, free speech absolutism will not be enough Source link If Elon Musk does buy Twitter, free speech absolutism will not be enough