As of Thursday, Oct. 27, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk owns Twitter.
Let that sentence sink in.
Musk has been in a back and forth with Twitter since originally expressing interest in purchasing the popular social media app in April. The landmark $44 billion deal has many severe repercussions, and, quite frankly, puts users in a pretty big dilemma.
Musk, a self proclaimed “free speech absolutist,” has a lot of plans for Twitter. Unfortunately, his plans are extremely harmful to Twitter and its users. Why? Musk doesn’t see the difference between free speech and hate speech.
Free speech and hate speech are not the same. In fact, the former is legal, and the latter is illegal. Unfortunately, due to loopholes in the Constitution that state language must meet specific criteria in order to be considered hate speech, it is sometimes overlooked or outright ignored. Free speech has to be regulated on places like Twitter. That’s a fact. Free speech and hate speech are not the same, but if you don’t pay close enough attention, a lot of hate speech will slip by under the impression of free speech. Free speech that harms marginalized communities cannot be tolerated.
Musk wants Twitter to function as a “town square” which gives everyone a chance to speak. This sounds great in theory, but what happens when certain people have an online platform to talk and type on without repercussions? The spread of bigotry and misinformation are two examples of what will now happen on Twitter.
Look at the increase in hate speech against the Jewish community stemming from Ye’s comments on Twitter and Instagram in the past month. If you want further examples, look at damage and xenophobia caused to the Asian community as a result of misinformation related to COVID-19 that was pedaled on social media. Twitter was a home base for a lot of this, and the people previously in charge had policies in place to ban these discussions; Musk has called these policies “oppressive.” Although Musk was not involved in the reinstating of West’s Twitter account (it occurred before he purchased the platform), he did tweet “welcome back to Twitter, my friend!” to West after he was reinstated.
Since Musk’s takeover of Twitter, there have already been some pretty alarming responses. The use of racial slurs on Twitter increased by nearly 500% in the 12 hours after Musk’s ownership of Twitter was finalized. This clearly showcases what people think Musk and his platform now stand for. In less than a day, people have decided that Twitter is now an unregulated ground zero for hate speech of all kinds.
Musk has made many promises about what he’ll do with his new toy. Bloomberg reports that Musk is planning to end “lifetime bans” or indefinite suspensions to accounts. He has already condemned the indefinite suspension of former President Donald Trump, who used Twitter to incite the deadly Jan. 6, 2021 Insurrection on the United States Capitol. Twitter defended their decision, citing “the risk of further incitement of violence.” To be specific, Musk called the choice “morally wrong and flat out stupid.” Trump has yet to confirm or deny if he would rejoin the social media platform. Others who are banned from Twitter include conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green and British commentator Katie Hopkins.
Musk’s pledges are extremely alarming. Giving platforms to people who use it to spread violence and hate speech is extremely dangerous and a threat to our democracy. Unfortunately, this view is not shared by all, especially by Musk.
This may be one of the worst times to have an unpredictable billionaire take over one of the largest internet platforms in the world. The 2022 midterm elections are fast approaching, and with 60% of Americans expecting to have a 2020 presidential “election denier” on their ballot, this isn’t the time to allow hate and misinformation to spread. Election deniers are a threat to democracy, and just like those who peddle hate speech, should not be given access to a platform where they can spread lies. Based on Musk’s free speech ideology, as well as his belief that Twitter has been “left-biased” as election deniers are infamously right-wing, it doesn’t seem very plausible that he’ll put a stop to misinformation on his platform.
Musk isn’t doing anything to improve Twitter’s problems. Not only does he refuse to recognize why Twitter needs to be regulated when it comes to freedom of speech, but he has decided to work on monetizing the platform instead. Musk has decided to pursue “paid verification.”
Verified users must subscribe to the $20 per month Twitter Blue subscription within the first 90 days of its release or they will lose their blue check mark. Employees assigned to the project were told that they have until Nov. 7 to launch this new feature or they will be forced to pack up and leave. It’s a ridiculous waste of resources and a disgusting way to introduce Twitter employees to the ‘Musk Era.’
Twitter is in for a wild ride and so are we. Musk is an unpredictable man, and Twitter was already an unpredictable platform even before he got involved. Nobody knows what Twitter will be like in a week, a month or a year. In all honesty, we don’t even know what it’ll look like tomorrow. For now, we just need to be wary. We need to be prepared for a whole new wave of hate online. And, worst of all, we need to be prepared for this online hate to translate into life offline. As recent events have shown us, we cannot underestimate the impact that social media has on certain peoples’ actions.