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What Elon Musk should do on Twitter after the takeover

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Elon Musk was successful in his attempt to take over Twitter. The richest man in the world has struck a deal with the company’s board of directors to acquire the platform in its entirety for a whopping $44 billion. Let’s hope the self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” lives up to the title.

A commentary by Ian Miles Cheong

Musk first expressed his intention to bring about changes to the social media platform after asking his followers what they think of Twitter’s stance on free speech principles. With continued censorship of conservative viewpoints and amid calls from the Biden administration for a crackdown on so-called “Russian disinformation,” the consensus was that Twitter had strayed from its original mission.

Twitter, which once billed itself as the “wing of free speech in the Free Speech Party,” was no better than Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, and scores of other platforms when it came to protecting political expression. But Twitter still had a head start: journalists, politicians and influencers of all stripes use the platform as a primary vehicle to spread their ideas and engage in discussions about current events. As the de facto marketplace of opinion, Twitter has been and still is the most influential place for political discourse. As with his visions for commercial space travel, his satellites for internet proliferation, and his electric vehicles, Musk saw Twitter not for what it is—but for what it could be:

“Freedom of expression is the foundation of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital marketplace where important issues affecting the future of humanity are debated,” Musk wrote in a statementwith which he announced his takeover.

“I want to make Twitter better than ever by improving the product with new features, open source the algorithms to increase trust, defeat spam bots and authenticate all users,” he wrote, referring to some of suggestions received from his huge fan base of 85 million followers.

“Twitter has tremendous potential – I look forward to working with the company and the user community to unlock that potential,” he concluded.

Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter is just the first chapter in his effort to overhaul the platform so that it lives up to its ideal as a “digital marketplace of opinions.”

Contrary to the shrieks and rants of Musk’s illiberal critics, freedom of speech does not mean removing moderation entirely and turning the platform into an anarchic “anyone can do anything.” Rather, it means that a user who has been banned will also know why they were banned – and ideally, the principles of moderation in the future will not be shaped by ideology or personal preferences.

Threats of violence, revenge porn, sexual exploitation of children, intimidation, stalking and terrorism are prohibited by law in virtually all developed countries. The right to freedom of expression is not a shield to commit crimes behind. Nothing should or will change under Musk’s aegis. Musk summed it up like this: “I hope even my worst critics stay on Twitter because that’s what freedom of speech means.” Regardless of collective hysteria Progressives on Twitter can sit back and relax about this development. You won’t get banned for criticizing the new owner of Twitter.

What’s next?

First, Musk must disclose – and if necessary change or remove – the algorithms that have long plagued the platform. When users are banned, they need to know why they were banned and how they broke a rule. Think of content suggestion and content restriction as the diabolical twins of content-driven algorithms – which are the beating heart of any social media platform.

radicalize algorithms. The left is leaning more to the left and the right is leaning more to the right as each side is isolated from the crowd due to algorithmically driven content propositions. The disclosure of the algorithms will no doubt lead to users being surprised at how much manipulation has taken place and to what extent it has affected socio-political discourse.

Shadow banning – a measure used to block or limit the content or reach of certain users without their knowledge – must be abolished completely. There is too much risk of abuse when an invisible hand artificially limits the reach of certain opinions while supporting other supposedly “acceptable” viewpoints. How many conservative influencers have been systematically silenced and stripped of the platform without their knowledge? Only time and transparency will tell.

His next step would be to restore accounts previously banned for “wrong thinking” – Babylon Bee for her satire on transgender Admiral Rachel Levine; James O’Keefe also for the great crime of responsible journalism; Steve Bannon for his political views and for essentially being Steve Bannon; Alex Jones for his “abusive behavior” when he made fun of a CNN contributor in real life; and Meghan Murphy for “misgendering” Canadian trans activist and notorious troublemaker Jessica Yaniv. The list is endless.

When Twitter has dossiers — or logs — on its most troubled, high-profile users, Elon Musk needs to release them. It would ease a long road to healing and more confidence. On the digital marketplace, users should feel free enough to engage in discussions on any topic, no matter how sensitive it is – transgenderism, pandemic, conflict in Ukraine, climate change, elections and so on. May truth prevail over any narrative.

And anyone should be free to criticize anyone, not just those on the establishment’s list of mandated targets, without fear of retaliation from the system. Nobody should be banned for calling a man a man or for correctly defining the term “woman”. Facts don’t care about feelings, and Twitter has no jurisdiction to legitimize opinion or fact for such things.

As a platform for free speech, Twitter must remain neutral to any political agenda. Even if there are “right” and “wrong” sides, people must be free to decide what they believe, what they want to support or reject, without being pushed to a certain position by hidden algorithms and content moderation with an ideological touch.

Musk will no doubt face certain challenges within Twitter in his quest to open source these algorithms and reveal their inner workings to every prying eye and programmer on the web. Twitter board members and investors will be the least of his worries. The ground staff—the content moderators, programmers, and middle management decision makers—were the ones who created these algorithms and issued the bans. The company’s internal culture encouraged their actions. Musk has to clean the whole house.

Luckily, he can do just that when he’s in full control of the company. Elon Musk doesn’t need to drain the swamp. All he has to do is break the dam and let the streams flow freely. And if in doubt, he can fire any dubious employee who refuses to take part in this new regime.


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