Making Free Speech Great Again? Why Musk Unlikely to Introduce Real Political Diversity on Twitter
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has acquired the American social networking service Twitter for roughly $44 billion. According to CNBC, Biden officials worry that former President Donald Trump and other banned Republicans may return to the platform following Musk's takeover of the social network.
"The Democrats have a pathological obsession with Trump, terrified that he might arise again from the ill-made coffin they thought they made," says Dr Binoy Kampmark, Senior Lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University, Australia. "If Musk's acquisition permits Trump to return, this can only be a good thing in arresting the hysterical wave of erasure that typifies debate today ... Scrubbing Trump from the platform didn't change anything, other than martyring him.. In some ways, he is more dangerous to their cause than ever."
Donald Trump was permanently banned from the platform following the Capitol building breach on 6 January 2021. Prior to this, Trump subjected Twitter to harsh criticism for banning conservative users and tagging and labelling the then-sitting president's tweets.
© AP Photo / Joe MaioranaFormer President Donald Trump is introduced at a rally at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, Saturday, April 23, 2022, in Delaware, Ohio, to endorse Republican candidates ahead of the Ohio primary on May 3.
Former President Donald Trump is introduced at a rally at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, Saturday, April 23, 2022, in Delaware, Ohio, to endorse Republican candidates ahead of the Ohio primary on May 3.
© AP Photo / Joe Maiorana
"It is not just the right wing that has been harassed; the moderate and more extreme left wing has been equally if not more harassed," remarks Joseph Oliver Boyd-Barrett, Professor Emeritus at Bowling Green State University.
Still, regardless of Musk's takeover of Twitter, Trump ruled out returning to the platform earlier this week. "I am going to stay on TRUTH," the former president told Fox News on Monday, referring to the social media service he launched in February 2022.
Trump and MAGA netizens' return to Twitter wouldn't really make matters worse for Joe Biden and Democrats who are already in a heap of trouble, according to Boyd-Barrett. The academic refers to soaring inflation, the Biden administration's "inability and unwillingness to do anything significant to reduce extreme inequality in the USA, or to rein in the US oligarchs or to tackle gun violence and police murders." Biden does nothing convincing to tackle climate change; and on top of this the US president resorted to "a policy of extraordinary recklessness in Ukraine," according to the professor.
© AP Photo / Soeren StacheIn this Feb. 2, 2013, file photo, a smartphone display shows the Twitter logo in Berlin, Germany, Twitter unsealed the documents Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, for its planned initial public offering of stock and says it hopes to raise up to $1 billion
In this Feb. 2, 2013, file photo, a smartphone display shows the Twitter logo in Berlin, Germany, Twitter unsealed the documents Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, for its planned initial public offering of stock and says it hopes to raise up to $1 billion
© AP Photo / Soeren Stache
More Open Platform?
Musk has previously described himself as a "free-speech absolutist." He vowed to develop new features including "authenticating all humans," introduce an "edit button," and adhere to free speech, which he called "the bedrock of a functioning democracy."
One might expect to see a much more open platform under Musk, according to Professor Charles M. Elson, director of the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware.
"I would hope that if in fact he is true to what he's been suggesting, that the platform is open, allowing for all views to be expressed," says Elson. "I've always believed in an unfiltered platform because I think that most people can figure out what is appropriate, what isn't. And when you start to narrowly take some things off and allow some things on, you allow for personal biases to affect a platform. I've never really agreed with that."
Still, the future of the platform also depends on how Twitter's employee culture will react to Musk's new approach, and how committed the Tesla CEO is to his promises, according to Elson. "Elon Musk, as you know, has taken very different positions over the years on different issues," the professor says. "And we'll have to see how this thing plays itself out."
Only time will tell whether the platform will eventually get rid of "labelling", "warning" messages, as well as banning of news outlets, according to the observers.
In August 2020, Twitter started to selectively add a "state-affiliated media" tag to outlets apparently receiving state funding. However, the rule wasn't applied to Western government-funded news sources. After the beginning of the Russian special operation in Ukraine, Twitter started putting warnings on tweets sharing links to "Russian state-affiliated media"; later the tech firm banned accounts of Sputnik News and RT across the European Union.
"Censorship has become a general problem with the concentration of communications media into the conglomerates run by a small number of super-rich who have other agendas beyond just increasing their wealth and power," says Socrates George Kazolias, media consultant, university lecturer and trainer in communications.
The media consultant believes that Tesla CEO Elon Musk also has an agenda – one simply does not know what his agenda is. "But if he lifts abusive restrictions and ‘politically correct’ censorship, then that is a good beginning," Kazolias remarks.
Boyd-Barrett echoes Kazolias' concerns: "[B]ecause Musk also enjoys his proximity to the centres of power and because his own freedom to amass great wealth is dependent on retaining that proximity and because he has many large contracts with the military-industrial complex, we should not expect that much will improve in terms of the real political diversity, or lack thereof, on Twitter."
The Twitter takeover may further expose "the extent to which Twitter is a de facto tool of establishment censorship," according to the professor.
© AP Photo / Richard DrewTwitter logo
© AP Photo / Richard Drew
Social Movement Needed to Thwart Establishment's Censorship
After Musk's initial announcement that he intended to buy Twitter, the company adopted a so-called “poison pill” policy designed to stop Musk from buying more shares in the business. However, in an apparent change of heart, the board agreed to strike a quick deal with Musk.
"I think they decided that the price he was offering was fair and that they would not be ultimately successful in resisting him," says Elson. "Or perhaps that no one with a higher bid was going to come along. Or that the public shareholders had lost confidence in their ability to steward the company and they were seeking to cash out."
Lots of users have recently become disenchanted by the platform due to its censorship spree, according to Socrates George Kazolias.
"I personally quit Twitter after being abusively suspended twice," Kazolias says. "The first time on a simple denunciation by a ‘Wokist’ although everything I wrote was true. Twitter didn’t want to take a chance and never conducted an inquiry as I requested. I had to delete my tweet after a month to get back on. The second time was a tongue-in-cheek response to a news story which any human being would have understood was satire but algorithms cannot understand humor."
The media consultant argues that the problem of the establishment's censorship should be solved through "tougher oversight into the respect of expression of opinions in the public sphere."
"I would also like to see a citizens’ movement to demand accountability and transparency," Kazolias says. "For this we will have to make greater efforts in education. But when I look at the results of schooling in the West these past 40 years, I almost have the impression there is a deliberate attempt to make people dumber."