Elon Musk keeps talking about freedom of speech, how Twitter is not doing everything to protect it, and how things are going to change once he takes over the company.
Here’s a look at how Musk’s views on free speech may affect Twitter’s Terms of Service and policies.
Elon Musk and Free Speech on Twitter
Elon Musk’s offer to purchase Twitter for $44 billion was well-received by the company’s board. The billionaire is already making plans for the company and Musk wants to make changes to Twitter once he’s settled in.
As noted in his SEC filing, one of the issues he’s had with Twitter is around whether it provides freedom of speech. He’s even gone as far as to create a poll on Twitter, asking others if they believed the platform adheres to this principle.
After the announcement of his offer to take over Twitter, he promised changes to ensure free speech is allowed.
What Does Musk Understand by Free Speech?
But how exactly does Musk define free speech and its limits? In a tweet, he noted he means “that which matches the law.”
This legal definition may not protect facing bullying, harassment, and other threats on Twitter. The law may not punish those who engage in such activities online, but Twitter has policies in place to protect users, as shown in the Twitter Help Center.
However, critics say Musk isn’t consistent on free speech. For instance, journalist Sharon Weinberger tweeted that she was told Elon Musk would need to review all her articles on a SpaceX facility visit before publication
In China, Musk’s Tesla has sued customers complaining about the safety of the cars, as Bloomberg reported.
How Musk’s Freedom of Speech Views Could Change Twitter
People wonder how Musk’s views on the freedom of speech are going to impact the platform.
Here are a few potential ways his views could change the site’s policies.
Twitter Policy May Only Ban Illegal Speech
Twitter is a global platform, so what is lawfully “free speech” differs from country to country. This is why private companies like Twitter have created Terms of Service and User Agreements to offer additional protections for users.
So what kind of speech is generally sanctioned by the Court in the United States? Well, a report by the Congressional Research Service claims the following:
The Court generally identifies these categories as obscenity, defamation, fraud, incitement, fighting words, true threats, speech integral to criminal conduct, and child pornography.
On the other hand, Twitter’s rules offer further protections against threats of violence, harassment, as well as hate speech based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity. Twitter also doesn’t allow the promotion or encouragement of suicide or self-harm, adult content, graphic violence, or other sensitive media.
As noted in a tweet, Musk says he’s a “free speech absolutist”. But critics fear that applying this to Twitter’s terms puts users in danger of misinformation, harassment, and hate speech.
Banned Accounts Could Return
Musk has claimed that he’d prefer lifelong bans not to exist on Twitter, being replaced by “timeouts” instead.
If Musk implements this as a policy, this could mean the return of accounts that have received lifelong bans on Twitter, including Donald Trump, Marjorie Taylor Green, Alex Jones, or Milo Yiannopoulos.
While these individuals are high profile, there are many other bans that could be overturned.
The User Base Could Turn Right
While Musk says he intends to make Twitter politically neutral, many fear the user base will become more right-wing following a potential lift of some of Twitter’s policies.
While he may argue his politics are centrist, some perceive him as leaning to the right, especially due to some of Musk’s most controversial tweets.
Musk, on the other hand, seems to believe that there has been a shift in what is currently considered to be centrist, leftist, or right-wing in the US.
Regardless of his own private political affiliations, perceptions around which side he’s friendly toward may affect which users join and thrive on the platform.
Will Musk Implement His Free Speech Policy?
Whether Musk will implement his free speech policy is something that remains to be seen. Musk has discussed this issue repeatedly over the years, so it’s quite likely that he will move forward with his idea.
There’s also the possibility that his opinion will change when he gets hands-on experience at the social media giant. If dismantling Twitter’s Terms of Service and policies turns the platform toxic, he may change direction.
Time Will Tell How Twitter Changes
Only time will tell whether Musk decides to implement policy changes and how it might affect the platform.
What’s clear is that Musk’s views are already causing waves.