Will free speech mean more: hate speech on Elon Musk’s Twitter?
Musk, who struck a $ 44-billion: deal: to buy Twitter on Monday, is a libertarian and self-described “free speech: absolutist:”Who has made it clear that he supports more unbridled expression on Twitter.
Once he gains control of Twitter, will the world richest person welcome back extremists: banned: for spreading hate, violence and lies in recent years?
“Only a matter of time before Elon flips the switch and we get our accounts back,” one QAnon influencer wrote on social media platform Telegram.
Experts aren’t so sure Musk is ready to turn back on the spigot full blast, but they are concerned that a platform already rife with disinformation and harassment could get even worse or just revert back to a previous version of Twitter, where oversight was minimal and harassment was commonplace.
Since being banned from Twitter, extremists have decamped to social media platforms like Gab and Telegram where there is less content moderation but also fewer followers. They appear giddy at the prospect of regaining access to a mainstream platform that gives them considerably more reach:
“I would rather be active on Twitter and dead irl than be banned from Twitter and alive,” white supremacist Nick Fuentes, who was banned from Twitter last year, wrote on telegram Monday.
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“This has real-world implications for all of us,” said Bridget Todd, a writer and host of the: podcast: “There Are No Girls on the Internet.” “It’s not just a marginalized problem for marginalized folks, it’s a problem for all of us.”
Elon Musk might reverse extremist bans:
Over the last few years, Twitter has implemented several sweeping bans of extremist and hate-driven individuals and groups.
In 2016, the platform: suspended several high-profile users: including Richard Spencer, then a primary spokesman for the white supremacist “Alt-right” movement. In 2018, Twitter banned dozens of far-right agitators including: Gavin McInness:who founded the extremist street gang the Proud Boys and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
Another: purge: of accounts came in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, including a ban of dozens of supporters of the “Stop The Steal” campaign, which claims the 2020 election was stolen. And earlier this year, GOP Congresswoman: Marjorie Taylor Green’s personal account was banned: for repeatedly sharing misinformation about the COVID pandemic.
Greene tweeted from her official Twitter account: “Bring back President Trump. Bring back my personal account. Bring back Dr. Robert Malone. Bring back Alex Jones. Bring back Milo Yiannopoulos. Bring back the cancelled nation. Bring back freedom of speech. Bring back America! ”
More content moderation, more complaints from conservatives:
Twitter’s more aggressive content moderation policies led to complaints that the social media platform was censoring conservative voices and viewpoints.
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Observers now wonder whether extremist accounts will be welcomed back to Twitter by Musk and what the impact of bringing back those accounts will be. Loosening content moderation can lead to real-world harms and stifle marginalized voices, experts warn.
“Musk’s conception of free speech is people being able to express things that are odious, hateful or even targeted harassment against other users,” said Emerson Brooking, resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “Twitter up until now has drifted towards a different definition of free speech, this idea that by reducing harassment and overt hate you create an opening for as many as voices as possible to express themselves.”
Todd said she’s deeply concerned by Musk’s past: business: practices and his statements about free speech “absolutism.” She worries a platform that is already hostile to marginalized communities will just get worse under Musk.
“Black women are specifically disproportionately targeted for things like conspiracy theories, disinformation and online harassment and that keeps Black women from doing things like running for office and from making their voices heard on political issues,” Todd said. “When our social media platforms – our places for public discourse – are not places where everybody can show up meaningfully, that means we do not have a functional democracy.”
But Brooking doubts Musk will bring back extremist voices, though they may return cloaked by new anonymous identities.
“Even with the change in ownership, I do not see Musk opening floodgates to Nazis and white supremacists,” he said.
Michael Edison Hayden, a senior investigator at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said he’s reserving judgment on Musk until he sees how he manages Twitter.
In theory, some of the ideas Musk has floated for the platform make a lot of sense and could result in less, not more, hateful content Hayden said. Musk will also have to balance content moderation with the impact his actions could have on his other companies, Hayden said.
“We will see what happens when he is responsible and his name and his brands, including Tesla, are also associated with the likes of Stefan Molyneux:who repeatedly used that platform to claim that non-white people are predisposed to being less intelligent than white people, ”Hayden said.
Fears that Twitter will be free speech for ‘jerks’ only:
Daryle Lamont Jenkins, an activist who has been tracking extremists for decades, said he’s skeptical about Musk’s pro-free speech rhetoric.
Twitter will undoubtedly become a more hostile environment for people of color, Jewish people and the LGBTQ + community if well-known extremists and people who engage in online hate speech are allowed to return, he said.
“The guys who always seem to be championing free speech the loudest are the ones who were the most dishonest about it,” Jenkins said. “They only seem to defend free speech for the jerks out there – the people who want to try to do the most harm and are trying to undermine the freedoms of others.”