VHere is an earthquake whose magnitude is still unknown but whose tremors are shaking well beyond the economic sphere alone. The takeover of Twitter for 44 billion dollars by the whimsical Elon Musk challenges the intellectual class. The American-Canadian-South African billionaire, already CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, wants to make the blue bird social network an “inclusive arena of freedom of expression”. This positioning pleases libertarians as much as it worries supporters of online moderation. Liberal essayist Robin Rivaton, a specialist in new technologies, tells the Point his first impressions.
Point : Elon Musk wants to make Twitter an open arena for free speech. Had it become the social network of censorship?
Robin Rivaton: Twitter is undoubtedly one of the giants of American tech that has tackled the subject of content regulation the most head on, as we have seen with the labeling of media under state influence, the removal of infox on the Covid or the banishment of Donald Trump after the invasion of the Capitol in Washington. So yes, Twitter has become somewhat of an icon of speech control. It is also a platform that cooperates with justice, especially when there is a complaint for insult or death threat.
Elon Musk is described as a free speech absolutist. His speech worries. Why ?
This concern arises from the erroneous association, in my opinion, between freedom of expression and excesses on the Internet, such as harassment, fake news or the apology of terrorism. It is likely that some words resonate more on the Internet than they do in the physical world, but freedom of expression on social networks is not the root of Internet bullying. For example, there may also be harassment in WhatsApp private loops.
Should we therefore expect major changes in the area of freedom of expression?
I’m not sure. Elon Musk says he wants to make Twitter the champion of free opinion and the debate of ideas. But let’s not be fooled: it’s a communication strategy. Elon Musk has certainly spent a lot of money to afford Twitter, but he has also embarked investors. These investors don’t give a damn about freedom of expression. Above all, they aim to increase the value of the company… and this requires a significant increase in advertising revenue.
If Donald Trump is allowed to return and it upsets Unilever, American Airlines and Nike, believe me, he could be banned very quickly.
Are advertisers the arbiters of freedom of expression?
They are a very short leash for Twitter. If Donald Trump is allowed to return and it upsets Unilever, American Airlines and Nike, believe me, he could be banned very quickly. Also, I don’t think advertisers would like to see their name attached to that of extremists whose tweets would no longer be moderated. If that were the case, brands would leave Twitter to spend their millions elsewhere.
Cédric O, the Secretary of State for Digital, recalled in a tweet that the European Digital Services Act would oblige, whatever happens, Twitter to fight against misinformation and online hatred…
Yes, Twitter cannot escape the domain of the law, especially since national and community legislation has greatly increased the responsibility of platforms. Legislators on the one hand, investors on the other, these two pressure blocks will frame Elon Musk’s desire for transformation. Revolution seems unlikely to me.
However, there is a way to circumvent advertisers: subscription.
Even with subscription logic, there is still pressure: that of consumers. Remember that when Joe Rogan, in his podcast broadcast on the music streaming platform Spotify, invited several characters with controversial positions on the Covid, huge petitions followed his broadcast, calling for the massive unsubscription of Spotify.