Twitter CEO Elon Musk can’t seem to catch a break. As soon as he took over at the social media company, he can’t make a single move without angering someone. But this is what happens when you decide to buy one of the most prominent online platforms in existence.
On Friday, Musk came under fire after he unveiled another component of the company’s new content moderation policy.
“New Twitter policy is freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach,” he tweeted. “Negative/hate tweets will be max deboosted & demonetized, so no ads or other revenue to Twitter. You won’t find the tweet unless you specifically seek it out, which is no different from rest of Internet.”
New Twitter policy is freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach.
Negative/hate tweets will be max deboosted & demonetized, so no ads or other revenue to Twitter.
You won’t find the tweet unless you specifically seek it out, which is no different from rest of Internet.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 18, 2022
Musk also clarified his remarks, noting that “this applies just to the individual tweet, not the whole account.”
Note, this applies just to the individual tweet, not the whole account
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 18, 2022
Several users took issue with Musk’s announcement, claiming it went against his stated goal of ensuring that Twitter is a free speech platform.
Here are some of the responses from those who believe the platform will not allow for freedom of expression:
FYI, he’s talking about shadowbanning. https://t.co/DuhHBWzAta
— Ben Swann (@BenSwann_) November 19, 2022
I dunno. Sounds like the former CEO. https://t.co/CmSR4iDZJs
— Mark Finchem #JustFollowTheLaw VoteFinchem.com (@RealMarkFinchem) November 19, 2022
LMAO, this is literally how every authoritarian state works.
"Yes we have freedom of speech, but there are limits. Anyone who speaks negatively about our great leader or nation will be send to jail, you won't see them unless you specifically look them up in prison." https://t.co/boTscdxioq
— Thomas van Linge (@ThomasVLinge) November 18, 2022
Others were less critical of Musk’s proposed policy, but had questions about what types of tweets would be considered “negative” or “hate” tweets. The new CEO has not yet rolled out guidelines indicating what would be defined as hateful, but indicated in the past that the platform would not become a “free for all hellscape” in a message to advertisers. Naturally, this made some people concerned that his approach won’t be much different than the previous leadership.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) asked:
“Will it be transparent? Will it be according to a published policy? Will we know when it’s happening? If not, how is this any different from the old twitter?”
Will it be transparent? Will it be according to a published policy? Will we know when it’s happening? If not, how is this any different from the old twitter?
— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) November 19, 2022
It is easy to understand why folks – especially those on the right – might be worried that Musk won’t make any real change when it comes to allowing a plethora of views to be shared on the platform. Indeed, when he broached the idea of buying Twitter, many were excited about the prospect of a wealthy individual who values free speech taking over a social media company that had routinely discriminated against users based on political viewpoints.
But I think it’s still way too early to assume that Twitter under Musk will be anywhere near as suppressive as the previous owners. For starters, it was unrealistic to believe he would have absolutely no content moderation whatsoever–despite what some seem to want. Every online platform has some sort of guidelines for users to follow.
Secondly, Musk recently reinstated some accounts that had been previously banned under the prior regime. One of those was none other than former President Donald Trump, who has indicated he will stay with Truth Social, but nobody believes he will be able to stay completely away from Twitter for too long.
Lastly, Musk fired the bulk of Twitter’s staff and shut down their access to the site’s moderation tools before doing so. This is yet another signal that things won’t be business as usual at the company, which has worried many on the left who aren’t happy about the fact that they will no longer have supremacy over the platform.
When discussing the new Twitter, I think it is important to remember that the issue isn’t content moderation, per se; it is how these policies are applied. The problem that most people had with the platform in the pre-Musk era wasn’t that the company had a terms of service, it is that these rules were not applied fairly. Instead, the company’s censorship brigade used these policies to punish conservatives far more than those on the left.
Even further, the company was very much politically biased when it came to the content it would allow to be shared on its platform. It is difficult to imagine that under Musk, the company would have suppressed the Hunter Biden laptop story to ensure that Joe Biden won the election in 2020. The new CEO has not yet shown that he will continue favoring the left.
However, I do believe it is smart to ask what form Twitter’s new content moderation will take. Massie’s request for transparency was not unreasonable; it is the best way to assure users that all views are being represented without favoritism based on political ideology. To put it simply, I do not believe there is much to be alarmed about at this moment. Of course, that could change depending on the decisions Musk makes in the future.