Elon Musk buys Twitter, now what?

The fact that the richest man in the world simply bought one of the largest social media services has sparked a huge outcry among users. But is this cry justified?

By Lena Raffetseder

The richest man in the world takes control of Twitter. Tesla boss Elon Musk takes over Twitter for $ 44 billion (about € 41 billion). His goal is to defend free speech, he insists, but Twitter, which is particularly popular with politicians and journalists, is now under his sole control. Lena Raffetseder knows exactly what is changing for Twitter, which concerns are justified and which rules apply around the world Alessandro Fanta asked, is a reporter from netzpolitik.org.

Lena Raffetseder: Since yesterday’s announcement, many have quickly formed and consolidated a very clear opinion on the subject of Musk on Twitter. But what exactly is changing for Twitter now?

Alexander Fanta: Musk can act directly on Twitter. He can fill the board. Above all, he can also change the rules that apply to content moderation. This means that if I as a public user something that violates Twitter’s guidelines, the company removes it and if Elon Musk now orders these rules to be changed, to allow for various things that had previously been moderated, it would obviously change in a lot of ways. rough how we perceive the platform.

Musk describes himself as a “free speech absolutist,” which has led to fears that he could now allow any content and Twitter to become an unmoderated space of disinformation and hate speech. But he can’t allow everything, can he?

It’s interesting because Musk is actually a libertarian, the very common ideology in Silicon Valley. He believes in the right to free speech and makes it absolute. This is quite common in American politics.

The fact that Elon Musk intervened with the announcement that freedom of expression would be practically absolute on the platform is on the one hand PR, but on the other it would be really difficult to imagine that he would not have at least nominally taken action in this direction. One possible consequence of this acquisition could be that Donald Trump, for example, will get his account back and be able to tweet again as freely as before. The same is true of numerous other US Republicans and American right-wing figures who have simply been downloaded from Twitter and other platforms in recent years. There may already be a shift in the developing tectonic plate, even if the rules only change for some celebrities and not systematically for all users.

Now Musk has already said that the company must obviously comply with the laws in force in the country in which it is based, in this case the USA. What additional rules does Musk have to comply with with Twitter in the EU?

However, moderation works slightly differently for each country. In Austria and Germany, for example, platforms have to contend with the fact that things like Holocaust denial are prohibited by law here. This different legal situation in different countries is something that platforms have had to contend with for a long time.

I don’t think Elon Musk has really reflected that the rules he wants to set regarding the US on Twitter will still have a global impact or will need to be changed globally so that Twitter can do so in other countries. do this.

This has always been a bit of a problem with the whole thing, that Silicon Valley’s free speech ideas think quite differently in other parts of the world. Even things that are not problematic in European countries and the United States can have rather problematic consequences elsewhere. Just think, for example, of the allegations against Facebook of fueling the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar with their lax content moderation because they only had one content moderator who spoke the local language, etc.

Just a few days ago, the European Union approved the law for digital services. This is a big law designed to regulate how social networks handle user content. This law also basically limits the ability for someone like Elon Musk to stop moderating content on a large scale. This is one reason why fears are exaggerated that Elon Musk is now changing everything on Twitter and making it a “hotspot” for right-wing trolls, because the European Union legally prescribes certain minimum standards for content moderation.

Musk is the richest person in the world. What do you generally do with such a digital space if billionaires can just buy this platform with millions of users?

We live in the era of digital capitalism. It is already true that platforms are simply privately owned, almost privatized public spaces, such as a park that belongs to a company and where you can walk normally, but the company can decide in a relatively arbitrary way to exclude individuals or to ban certain actions in this park And that’s exactly the situation we find ourselves in with platforms. If someone buys the company and the park changes hands, then that’s something we’ll have to live with. So far, EU laws have not changed this at all. The question is whether a different approach should be found, for example by saying that these semi-public spaces are nationalized or subject to even stricter rules than they have been until now.

With the announcement of the acquisition of Musk, Mastodon set a trend on Twitter and the operator also spoke of an influx of new users. What should happen to Twitter to switch to Mastodon?

I already have a Mastodon account. I just don’t use it because Mastodon is kind of a victim of the net effect. So the more users a platform has, the more relevant what happens on the platform becomes for each individual user. This effect simply applies to social networks and makes a Facebook or Instagram or a TikTok in the respective target group almost irresistible or indispensable. And Mastodon also had to struggle with this effect. This is an open platform. This means that everyone can configure their own Mastodon server, there is no central regulator like Twitter or Facebook, which can then decide “you are the user and you are not the user”.

There has long been a debate in a certain community about how cool it wouldn’t be. Even former Twitter boss Jack Dorsey announced that he’s starting a team to see how to decentralize Twitter? It never happened. If there was a decisive political intervention in the United States or the EU or elsewhere, then it might appear that the legislator is telling social networks to decentralize, which means that the legislator says, “You have to interface with others now open social networks” . a Twitter user can therefore also see the posts of a Facebook friend. And so on. It would be a way to break this network effect, to break the power of individual social networks over our lives. It has been talked about, but so far it has not existed.

Are the concerns that have been raised since the news of Musk’s purchase justified, or is it much exaggerated?

I think the concern is justified. He is therefore an individual who can make significant interventions in the way we use this platform. This is the arbitrary power of a single owner. This is bad. But it must be said, and I think this is perhaps the reason why these concerns are a bit exaggerated, that there is a whole apparatus of people who give advice, that is, lawyers, experts in content moderation, including him all. the apparatus that Twitter has built with thousands of people around the world moderating content today. And I think a lot of what Elon Musk said hasn’t really been thought of. And when the considerations are made, where millions of advertising money are at stake, for example from companies that post advertisements on Twitter, which then say: “Well, if hate and hate speech are no longer moderate here , then we don’t want to be here, “so Elon Musk’s attitude may soon change again. So, in that sense, I think maybe it won’t be eaten as hot as it is cooked.

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