Now that the world’s wealthiest person with a reputation for unpredictable comments and inscrutable politics is owner of Twitter, how will the site which was earlier considered to be the pinnacle of free speech change?
Ever so often, it seems like a slew of people announce their exit from Twitter. The latest campaign comes in response to Musk’s purchase of the website, which has some worried that it will allow misinformation, propaganda, abuses, and hate speech to grow even more than they do now.
Many conservatives in the United States are applauding the possibility of a less regulated Twitterverse, with the House Republican Conference encouraging Musk to reactivate former President Donald Trump’s account, which was blocked indefinitely following the January 6, 2021 US Capitol riot.
“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” Musk said in a tweet announcing the purchase.
He tweeted that “I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans. Twitter has tremendous potential – I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it.”
Multiple widespread bans of extremist and hate-driven individuals and groups have been imposed by Twitter in recent years.
In 2016, the network suspended several high-profile members, including Richard Spencer, the white supremacist “Alt-right” movement’s main spokesman at the time. Hundreds of far-right activists, including Gavin McInness, the founder of the radical street gang the Proud Boys, and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, were banned from Twitter in 2018.
Extremists have relocated to social media networks like Gab and Telegram since being banned from Twitter, where there is less information regulation but also fewer followers. They seem ecstatic at the idea of regaining access to a popular platform that will allow them to reach a far wider audience.
White supremacist Nick Fuentes, who was banned from Twitter last year, posted on telegram Monday, “I would rather be active on Twitter and dead irl than be banned from Twitter and alive.”
Michael Kleinman, head of technology and human rights at Amnesty International USA, added that regardless of ownership, “Twitter has a responsibility to protect human rights, including the rights to live free from discrimination and violence and to freedom of expression and opinion – a responsibility that they already too often fail”.
“We are concerned with any steps that Twitter might take to erode enforcement of the policies and mechanisms designed to protect users. The last thing we need is a Twitter that willfully turns a blind eye to violent and abusive speech against users, particularly those most disproportionately impacted, including women, non-binary persons, and others,” Kleinman said.