3 Ways Musk Can Support Free Speech

Back in the paleolithic age of April, Elon Musk seemed excited about buying Twitter, saying he wanted to transform the site by promoting free speech.

A lot has happened since then: Musk says he no longer wants to buy Twitter, and the company is suing to force him to buy it. Today was a court session.

A deal could still happen. In today’s newsletter, I discuss three suggestions for what Musk could do if he finally owns Twitter and is serious about expanding the boundaries of online expression.

Provide more transparency in the inner workings of Twitter

Moderating online conversations can be difficult, and Twitter and other social media sites tend to spoil some of the regularity. Moderators make questionable calls, and people sometimes don’t know why a post was removed or why Twitter did or didn’t accept it.

Online freedom and trust would be strengthened if people could understand the decisions of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and be given the opportunity to air their grievances. This requires more investment and openness from Twitter and its peers to explain their sometimes difficult judgment calls about online expression and easier ways for users to appeal those decisions.

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

Being transparent about the inner workings of Twitter won’t change what they can or can’t say there. But it could build public trust if there were more answers to important questions like: Are social media algorithms suppressing conservative views? How often does Twitter make mistakes by keeping posts that violate its rules or deleting posts by mistake? How Twitter’s computer systems work Strengthening the political content?

Allow more political expression

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

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

But the Knight First Amendment Institute said it was important for sites to give “a strong presumption in favor of leaving out political speech” and “to respond measuredly to violations of community standards.”

Experts essentially say that people benefit from evaluating what their elected leaders say and talking about their government and its policies, even if some of the talk contains misleading information or even bigotry. It’s not far from what Twitter is politics You already said it.

There are limits to what can be done about political speech online. Twitter has experimented with adding flawed but decent contextual information to potentially misleading political posts. And most experts on online expression believe Twitter, Facebook and YouTube were justified in kicking Mr. Trump off their sites after last year’s Capitol riots. (Some of them believe that his suspension should be lifted now.)

Challenge governments that restrict citizen expression

Rarely in the United States are American Internet companies in the position of needing to protect ordinary people from online censorship, harassment, or incitement to violence by their own government. But it happens regularly outside the US

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 the law, which restricts posts related to civil liberties, protests and freedom of the press. He was capable of much more.

If Musk were serious about giving voice to people far less powerful than he is, he could be tasked with pushing back when governments try to crack down on free speech — and encouraging the US government to support internet companies when they do.

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


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

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

    Related: Some blind and low-vision people say that the automated tools that make websites more accessible to them have made it more difficult for them to use screen readers, my colleague Amanda Morris reports.

    Previously from On Tech: “Disability drives innovation”

  • Nepal is tired of your TikTok videos: Some tourist and religious sites in the country have tried to ban people from making online videos of them. “It’s nice for them to get all the approval, but it’s annoying for visitors like us,” a frequent visitor to Lumbini’s Sacred Garden told Rest of World.

Don’t bother telling me A dog barking at a statue.


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