“For Elon Musk, radically changing Twitter will be difficult”

Elon Musk will he transform Twitter? By becoming the property of the leader of Tesla and SpaceX, the social network passes into the hands of a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist”. “Twitter has become an agora, a village square”, pleaded, Monday, April 25, in a press release, the entrepreneur for whom people must be able “to express themselves freely, within the limits of the law”. However, Mr. Musk has in mind the very broad American conception of freedom of expression, since the first amendment to the United States Constitution enjoins Congress not to pass any law that restricts the freedom of speech. Some therefore hope for a major upheaval in Twitter. Among them are Republicans and supporters of ex-President Donald Trump. They have long accused social networks like Twitter of “censor” conservatives.

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Still, for Elon Musk, radically changing Twitter will be difficult. The libertarian is not the first web service executive to hold up the banner of “freedom of speech”. This was the case with most of the personalities of the “old Internet culture, basically Web 1.0 (late 1990s) and early Web 2.0, pre-2005”, recalled on Twitter Yishan Wong, former CEO of the powerful and libertarian discussion forums Reddit, which initially welcomed neo-Nazis or photos of naked teenage girls. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, himself argued in 2018 that the words of Holocaust deniers should not be unpublished and that social networks should not pose as “arbiters of truth”.

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But, warns Yishan, if the principle of freedom of expression remains good, “the practical issues have changed, because the world has changed”. From the margins to a central role, social networks have been used to harass, scam or spam, and accused of having favored ethnic violence in Burma, India or Ethiopia, disseminated jihadist propaganda, allowed attempts at manipulation of elections by Russia, helped to prepare the storming of the American Capitol, on January 6, 2021, etc. All social networks – including Reddit, Facebook and Twitter – have gradually implemented increasingly elaborate content moderation and anti-abuse policies. These have nothing “partisan”, considers Yishan, for whom Mr. Musk risks, with Twitter, “living in hell”.

Thierry Breton’s warning

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