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What will happen to freedom of expression on Twitter if Elon Musk is bought?

Twitter's board announced today that it would accept Elon Musk's offer to buy its company.

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What will happen to freedom of expression on Twitter if Elon Musk is bought?

Twitter's board announced today that it would accept Elon Musk's offer to buy its company. Musk is the richest man in the world. Is this a surprising surrender?

Musk offers $54.20 per share. This is the largest price ever paid for business acquisitions.

Morgan Stanley and other financial institutions will lend $25.5 million to Musk. Musk will also contribute approximately $20 billion. He expects to receive a bonus from Tesla for achieving the quarter's objectives.

Musk assured that his intentions to own Twitter were to "unlock its extraordinary potential and become the platform of freedom of expression around world." In a letter he sent to the president of the company, he explains his intentions.

Twitter is the de facto central public square. Failure to uphold free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy. What can we do? https://t.co/aPS9ycji37

This belief that a social network can become a model for unlimited freedom of expression stems from an idealistic approach to social networking that has been around for a while.

Twitter's single owner is a threat to its future. His tweets are false, sexist and self-serving.

Musk's move might be negative because it gives him unprecedented power over Twitter. Musk himself has already suggested some changes he would like to see to Twitter, including:

1.- Restructure current management team. It claims it doesn't have confidence in them.

2.- Add an Edit button to your tweets

3.- Use temporary suspensions to limit the current moderation control of the tweets' content instead of absolute bans

4.- Consider a transition to a paid model such as Spotify. In this model, users can pay to remove intrusive ads.

Musk previously stated that he didn't care much about the financials after becoming Twitter's largest shareholder in April.

The bankers who will lend him 25.5 billion dollars are likely to be worried. If Twitter isn't profitable, Musk will feel the pressure. Musk says freedom of expression is his top priority, but advertisers may not like to see their products advertised alongside angry extremist tweets.

What Elon Musk does is exactly what plutocrats do: they use money to buy power, power to protect themselves, take control of media to manipulate the discourse and hedge against resentment and brand themselves as the solution to the problem.

Twitter has introduced a variety of measures to manage and moderate content in recent years. It expanded its definition of "harm" in 2020 to help it deal with content that is not consistent with authoritative recommendations.

Twitter assures that all changes to its content moderation approach "are in service of the public discussion" and are focused on misleading and misinformation. It claims it also responds to abuse and incivility experienced by users.

However, this can be seen as an attempt to preserve its reputation after much negative publicity.

Musk has spoken out against these tools, regardless of the reasons.

He even went so far as to call the platform "a public square de facto." This is a naive statement to put it mildly. Tarleton Gillespie, a Microsoft communications expert, warned that social media networks cannot function as open spaces. They must also control the content while they claim they don't.

Gillespie suggests that platforms be required to moderate to protect users against their dialectical enemies and to remove offensive, toxic, or illegal content. This would allow you to show your best face to advertisers, partners, and users. He argues that the difficult part is knowing "exactly when and how to intervene".

Platforms such as Twitter are not public squares. This is especially true when only a small portion of the public uses them.

Public squares can also be implicitly and explicitly controlled by the behavior that governs our social interactions in public. They are supported by the possibility to resort to an authority to restore order when disorder occurs. Musk is the final judge in the case of a private company like Twitter.

Musk's vision of a public square would be possible, but it would likely be a private and unpaid version.

Just a gentle reminder of the kind of Covid misinformation Elon Musk has spread using his free speech on this platform pic.twitter.com/xWMy5OFzci

Users may be more polarized and hardened by giving them more freedom to say what they want. Advertisers will likely be discouraged by this. This is a major problem in Twitter's current economic model (90% of its income comes via advertising).

Twitter is smaller than most social networks. Research shows that Twitter has a greater influence than other social networks, however, because tweets go viral quickly and are often reproduced in traditional media.

The algorithm behind tweets that stand out to each user is to maximize exposure and clicks. They are not meant to enrich the user’s life with insightful or interesting insights.

Musk also suggested that he would open access to the algorithms used in Twitter. Transparency. Twitter will be a private company once it is established. The transparency it wishes to maintain will only depend on the decisions it makes.

Ironically, Musk accused Mark Zuckerberg, Meta (previously Facebook CEO), of having too much control over public debate.

Musk has, however, tried to suppress criticisms of him in the past.

There is very little evidence to support his claims that he intends to create an inclusive and free space on Twitter. And even less evidence to believe that the changes he makes will be in the common good.

This article was published in "The Conversation".

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