Elon Musk is buying Twitter. A scary thought, isn’t it? Yes.
Every way one thinks about it, the move by the richest man in the world to control a powerful media outlet, with nearly 220 million users, doesn’t sound a good idea.
Since its launch in 2006, Twitter’s user numbers have been growing steadily. Today, the social media platform is one of the most influential mediums of global communication; many argue that the nature of its open instant messaging characteristic indeed makes it the most powerful of them all.
The war in Ukraine is a case in point. Using Twitter as his main tool of reaching out, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has so far been successful in rallying his people and the Western world to fend off the Russian offensive. Many other landmark events have been witnessed live by the entire world. That makes Twitter an essential global resource that no single person should have absolute control over it.
Musk is a successful entrepreneur and a brilliant innovator who revolutionised the electric transportation industry and is in the process of doing the same with space travel and exploration. But that doesn’t qualify him or anyone else to be in total control of the planet’s most important communication medium.
Taking the company private will naturally make it under the personal biases of one person (who has displayed questionable judgement at times). Will Musk use the platform to advance his own personal, and business interests, at the expense of its credibility? Will he shut the company if its starts to lose money, denying the world a critical communication tool? These important, legitimate questions need to be answered unequivocally by him.
On the other hand, Musk believes that “free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” according to a statement he issued on Monday. Musk, who called himself once a “free-speech absolutist” says he wants to change Twitter’s ‘overzealous’ content moderation, which again questions his judgement.
Free speech is a universal human right. But not hate speech. Content moderation today has become crucial in all social media outlets. Terrorists, racists, and violent demagogues cannot be allowed to spread their venom unchecked.
Thousands of innocent lives have been lost across the world as a result of extremist speech allowed by Twitter, Facebook and others. That needs to stop. Removing the moderation will only lead to more conflicts instigated by those who will use this free medium to stoke hate and fear.