Twitter: Elon Musk’s deal is bad news for media freedom
Billionaire Elon Musk reached agreement with the board of Twitter board on 25 April to buy the social network for a deal valued at $44 billion and is set to become the sole owner of the platform. The International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ/EFJ) have condemned the planned takeover, warning it threatens pluralism, press freedom and creates a playground for disinformation.
Elon Musk is the CEO of electric car maker Tesla Inc and aerospace company Space X. He has a long established reputation of criticizing Twitter’s policies of content moderation and has regularly called on Twitter to become a more unregulated forum for “free speech”.
Following the takeover, Musk, the self-titled “free speech absolutist” announced plans to “make algorithms open source, defeat spam bots and authenticate all humans.”
🚀💫♥️ Yesss!!! ♥️💫🚀 pic.twitter.com/0T9HzUHuh6
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 25, 2022
The purchase of Twitter, a company that brings together over 400 million users across the world, by Musk means the company is now owned by one single person instead of multiple shareholders, raising concerns that this new concentration in the hands of a single individual would have serious consequences over the social and political use of the platform.
The federations warn that Musk’s announcement to “authenticate all humans” would seriously challenge protection of those whose opinions or identities do not not align with those in power, among whom, many journalists and sources across the world who hold the powerful to account.
The federations are also concerned about any steps taken to lessen content moderation. The IFJ’s latest surveys have revealed how journalists, in particular women, and those belonging to minority groups, have been targeted online, including on Twitter, and have urged social media to take a stand to protect journalists from hate and misogynistic discourses.
In addition, the federations fear that allowing unregulated speech on Twitter without moderation will increase disinformation and threaten quality journalism.
IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: “Twitter is an extension of journalists’ offices. This is where journalists promote their work, express ideas or find sources of information. This space must be duly moderated, while respecting freedom of speech. It is a fine balance that any Twitter owner must pay attention to. We are concerned that Elon Musk’s plans for Twitter are going the wrong direction by exacerbating opportunities to attack journalists and threatening the anonymity of users”.
EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez said: “The billionaire has never hesitated in the past to use Twitter to manipulate information, influence stock prices and control media coverage of his own business. We have every reason to believe that he will tighten his grip on the social network for his own benefit, with no regard for the public interest. It is high time to regulate the ownership of media and social networks in order to counteract a concentration of power that is harmful to pluralism, public debate and democracy”.