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3 Ways Musk Can Support Free Speech

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Back in Paleolithic times in April, Elon Musk seemed thrilled to buy Twitter and said he wanted to transform the site by promoting free speech.

A lot has happened since: Musk says he no longer wants to buy Twitter, and the company is suing to force him to complete the acquisition. There was a court hearing today.

The case could still happen. In today’s newsletter, I’ll explore three suggestions for what Musk can do if he ends up owning Twitter and really wants to push the boundaries of online expression.

Provide more transparency into the inner workings of Twitter

Moderating conversations online can be tricky, and Twitter and other social media sites mess up with some regularity. Moderators make dodgy calls, and people sometimes don’t know why a post was deleted or why Twitter did or didn’t take action.

Online freedom and trust would be enhanced if people could understand the decisions made by Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and had the opportunity to air their grievances. It requires more investment and openness from Twitter and its peers in explaining their sometimes difficult decisions about online expression, and easier ways for users to appeal those decisions.

Advocates have also offered change the laws to ensure journalists and academics can analyze what’s happening under the hood of sites like Twitter. Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, suggested on Twitter last week that Musk could order an independent audit of the company’s content moderation policies and practices.

Making Twitter’s inner workings transparent won’t change what people can or can’t say there. But it could boost public confidence if there were more answers to important questions like: social media algorithms remove conservative viewpoints? How often does Twitter make mistakes, either keeping posts that violate its rules or deleting posts by mistake? How Twitter’s Computer Systems Work amplify political content?

Allow more political expression

Several online discourse experts have told me that Musk could build trust in Twitter as a place that encourages a vigorous exchange of ideas by ensuring that the site allows posts from U.S. elected officials and candidates and only restricts discussion of political topics in extreme cases.

Deciding when Twitter and other sites should step in and remove political posts or ban accounts is the challenge. We saw this debated when many people believed Donald Trump and other officials had too much leeway to post false claims about voter fraud on Twitter before and after the 2020 presidential election.

But the Knight First Amendment Institute has said that it is important that sites give a “strong presumption in favor of abandoning political speech” and “respond in a measured way to violations” of community standards.

What the experts are saying, essentially, is that people have an interest in evaluating what their elected officials are saying and talking about their government and its policies, even if some conversations contain misleading information or even bigotry. It’s not far from what Twitter Strategies already said.

There are limits to a hands-off approach to online political discourse. Twitter has experimented with adding incorrect but valid contextual information to potentially misleading political messages. And most online expression pundits think Twitter, Facebook and YouTube were justified in kicking Mr. Trump off their sites after last year’s Capitol riot. (Some of them think his suspensions should now be lifted.)

Challenge governments that restrict citizen expression

In the United States, it is rare for American Internet companies to be obligated to protect ordinary people from online censorship, harassment, or incitement to violence by their own government. But it happens regularly apart from WE.

Twitter has at times been a strong advocate for citizens who use the service to criticize their own leaders. He sued India this month to challenge the government’s interpretation of a law that restricts publications related to civil liberties, protests and freedom of the press. He could do so much more.

If Musk really wanted to give a voice to people far less powerful than himself, he could pledge to push back against governments that try to clamp down on free speech – and encourage the US government to support internet companies when they do. .

We must continue to discuss how relatively new means of communication and persuasion should work to improve our understanding of the world.


  • Anonymity is “the ultimate double-edged sword”. NGL is the latest app for people to post anonymous questions and comments, writes my colleague Valeriya Safronova. Previous anonymous messaging apps like ASKfm, Secret, and Yik Yak struggled to contain bullying and threats of violence and eventually disappeared.

  • Necessity is the mother of invention: The Verge wrote a captivating story blind programmers who created two generations of screen readers, programs that speak text aloud on a computer screen. The inventors – including two who met as children at an Australian music camp – have filled a gap in technology that has been primarily created by sighted programmers.

    Related: Some blind and partially sighted people say that automated tools supposed to make websites more accessible to them have made it harder to use screen readers, my colleague Amanda Morris reported.

    Earlier from On Tech: “Disability stimulates innovation”

  • Nepal is fed up with your TikTok videos: Some tourist and religious sites in the country have tried to ban people from recording online videos on their land. “For them it’s fun to get all tastes, but for visitors like us it’s disturbing,” frequent visitor to sacred garden in Lumbini Told Rest of the world.

Don’t bother to say the dog growling against a statue.


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