Twitter takeover: Free speech absolutist Musk likely to clash with EU

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Twitter Takeover: Free Speech Absolutist Musk Likely To Clash With Eu Twitter Takeover: Free Speech Absolutist Musk Likely To Clash With Eu
Elon Musk could find himself at odds with the European Union following his $44 billion takeover of Twitter, according to a professor of political communications. Photo: PA Images
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James Cox

Elon Musk could find himself at odds with the European Union following his $44 billion takeover of Twitter, according to a professor of of political communications.

The eccentric billionaire's takeover of the popular social media platform has brought widespread discussion, fear, glee and anxiety in equal measure in the last week.

However, his pledge to restore complete free speech to the world's "town hall" could lead to clashes with the European Union.

Professor Jane Suiter - who is director of DCU's Institute for Future Media, Democracy and Society - told BreakingNews.ie: "This is going to be the big battle. Musk says he's a free speech absolutist. The European conception of free speech is very different from the American conception of free speech."

"In America, even money has free speech which is why they can spend billions on elections, whereas in Europe we tend to go more for regulation so we control the amount people can spend on elections," Prof Suiter added.

Digital Services Act

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She pointed to the European Commission's Digital Services Act, which will look to combat misinformation, hate speech and cyber-bullying, among other areas.

"That's not coming in until 2024, it's not finally agreed, so it will be interesting to see where Musk goes. Will he have a battle with the EU? Tech firms have already been lobbying Europe to water down that legislation, so it's unclear how that will play out," Prof Suiter explained.

She said Mr Musk's rhetoric suggests there will be more hate speech, misinformation, disinformation and cyber-bullying on Twitter.

Musk says it will be within the limits of what is legal, but what's legal in America is very different to what is legal in Europe, and Asia.

"If you're a free speech absolutist then you think that free speech is more important than the public good.

"Musk says it will be within the limits of what is legal, but what's legal in America is very different to what is legal in Europe, and Asia.

"Presumably he's talking at the moment about America, where there is more of a tendency to privileging free speech over any sort of public good, so it will be interesting to see what he's talking about."

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Prof Suiter said a clash with the EU would not necessarily intimidate Mr Musk, as he regularly clashes with regulators.

She pointed to his ongoing dispute with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in America, which started when he tweeted about taking Tesla private.

His commitment to algorithmic transparency could be one of the positives of a Twitter takeover, Prof Suiter said.

"That is one of the good things he's proposing, and one of the proposals in the new European legislation, so people would see why they're targeted and that's something the new legislation wants all platforms to do.

"People will then see more why they are being targeted with particular things and why some things appear in their feed, but not in their friends' feeds.

"That algorithmic transparency in open sourcing the algorithm would be good."

She said his commitment to getting rid of bots is another positive, with the caveat that Twitter has been attempting to do this for years.

Edit button

Another positive for Twitter users could be the long-awaited introduction of an edit button.

However, Prof Suiter pointed out that there would have to be limits to this.

"Loads of people would like that. Obviously it has to be time limited so you can't go back and re-write history. He said that himself in his TED Talk that there would have to be questions around how long you can go back and edit tweets etc."

Overall though, having the platform controlled by the world's richest man will be a negative, she said.

However, she pointed out similarities to the likes of newspaper barons and Rupert Murdoch,

"He's the latest in a long line, think about the great newspaper barons. They were big industrialists who wanted to be gatekeepers over their world's information. Musk is the latest in a long line of mega industrialists who want to own the world's information."

While it will be at least a year until noticeable changes hit Twitter, Prof Suiter feels people will be using the mute and block buttons a lot more.

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