Elon Musk’s Twitter to address free speech battles with regulators and activists

Elon Musk has promised to make Twitter a bastion of free speech and crack down on spam bots, but government regulators and watchdogs claim he still hasn’t gotten the answers to key questions about his plans.

On Tuesday night, the self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” took to Twitter to lay out his vision for the site after receiving the company’s endorsement of its $44 billion takeover bid.

“By ‘freedom of speech’ I mean simply what is in accordance with the law. I am against censorship that goes well beyond the law,” Musk wrote. “If people want less freedom of expression, they will ask the government to pass legislation. Therefore, it goes against the will of the people to go beyond the law.”

Musk also took a swipe at Twitter’s top attorney – who reportedly wept during an all-hands meeting over Musk’s takeover – over the site’s suspension of The Post’s Twitter account following its coverage of Hunter Biden.

“Having a major news organization’s Twitter account suspended for publishing a truthful story was obviously incredibly inappropriate,” Musk wrote on Tuesday.

‘Elon, there are rules’

While Musk’s vision for Twitter is to scrap content moderation rules and stop censorship by news organizations, he still faces serious potential backlash from regulators — including a senior European Union commissioner who on Tuesday announced a possible threatened with a ban.

Thierry Breton
“Elon, there are rules,” said EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton.
Corbis via Getty Images

“Elon, there are rules,” said EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said the Financial Times. “You’re welcome, but those are our rules. It’s not your rules that apply here.”

Breton’s comments came days after the EU passed a sweeping law called the Digital Services Act, which requires websites to more closely monitor material about pandemics, wars, natural disasters and other emergencies that governments consider “disinformation.” They also need to crack down on what governments see as hate speech and harassment.

If Twitter or other social media sites don’t comply with the rules, the EU can fine them up to 6% of their earnings – or even ban them from operating in Europe altogether.

“If [Twitter] If you don’t obey our law, there are penalties,” Breton said. “Anyone who wants to profit from this market has to abide by our rules. The whiteboard [of Twitter] will have to ensure that if it operates in Europe it has to meet the obligations including moderation, open algorithms, free speech, transparency of the rules, obligations to respect our own rules on hate speech, revenge porn [and] Harassment.”

The EU’s new rules, similar to those currently under consideration in the US and UK, further complicate the already thorny global patchwork of online language rules.

For example, a Twitter user in the US who posts an image of a Nazi swastika would not be breaking any American law – but could be prosecuted in Germany. And a tweet by a journalist calling Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine a “war” would be legal in most parts of the world but carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years in Russia, where the government has tried to restrict Twitter , but the company committed to continue operations.

Musk must figure out how to fulfill his promise to make Twitter, as he put it, a “digital town square where important matters affecting the future of humanity will be debated” without clashing with governments.

questions about anonymity

Another part of Musk’s vision for Twitter is to crack down on spam accounts and bots.

“If our Twitter bid is successful, we will defeat the spam bots or die trying!” He tweeted in early April, adding that he would “authenticate all real people” to crack down on spam.

Twitter HQ
“If our Twitter bid is successful, we will defeat the spam bots or die trying!” said Elon Musk.
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

While verifying people would certainly reduce the spread of bots, human rights groups have argued for years that allowing users to use anonymous and pseudonymous accounts benefits the freedom of speech of dissidents and journalists in countries with repressive laws.

“Any free speech advocate (as Musk seems to see himself) who is willing to require users to identify themselves to access a platform is likely unaware of the critical importance of pseudonymity and anonymity,” he said the Electronic Frontier Foundation called On Monday. “Requiring users to show ID to prove they’re ‘real’ goes against the company’s ethos.”

Even if Twitter doesn’t require users to display their real names on their profiles, repressive governments could force companies to expose people who post on the site, the group warned.

“Governments in particular may be able to force Twitter and other services to disclose the true identities of users and do so in many global jurisdictions without sufficient respect for human rights,” the EFF said.

China has required social media users to register with their real names for years – a move critics say has helped the country’s political leaders quell political dissent. Russia has considering taking similar steps.

Human Rights Watch condemned the practice in 2015, writing that online anonymity and message encryption “often provide the only safe way for people in oppressive environments to express themselves freely.” Elon Musk’s Twitter to address free speech battles with regulators and activists


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