Critics sound alarm over ‘Twitter troll’ Elon Musk’s company takeover

Elon Musk’s impending takeover of Twitter has sparked warnings on the left that the platform under his leadership will be flooded with hate speech and misinformation, especially ahead of the upcoming election cycles.

Musk hasn’t provided a detailed picture of the version of Twitter he intends to run, but he has hinted at creating a platform focused on what he believes is “free speech,” meaning there will be less content moderation and a high level probability that former President Trump would return access to his once-favorite account.

As the deal moves forward after Musk agreed to go through with his purchase of the company and a judge halted the trial in Twitter’s lawsuit against the billionaire, those changes could be fast approaching — and they’ve worried critics.

“Even if you don’t use Twitter, this will affect you,” Angelo Carusone, president of left-leaning watchdog group Media Matters, told The Hill.

He compared Musk’s eventual acquisition of Twitter to the launch of Fox News more than two decades ago, offering an alternative to balance what its founders saw as a media landscape aimed at liberals.

“That’s what Fox has become – and it’s had a profoundly distorting effect on the news media, on our society. And if you look at what Musk is saying about social media, we’re in the same moment, just 30 years later, up to speed,” Carusone said.

“[Musk] sees Twitter and the policies it wants to put in place and the way it wants to use the platform as a way to balance these other social networks,” he added.

The changes Musk could make to Twitter “will begin to reshape and influence the way other platforms deal with disinformation, extremism, harassment and abuse,” he said.

Billionaire Tesla and SpaceX CEO agreed with Twitter to buy the company for $44 billion in April, but over the summer he backed out of the deal, accusing Twitter of not providing information about spam bots to deliver to the platform. Twitter denied the allegations and sued Musk to hold him accountable for his agreement.

This week, Musk said he would agree to his offer again and sought to dismiss the case. Twitter is still pushing for his trial of Musk, but a judge halted the case, giving Musk until Oct. 28 to finalize the deal or face a November trial.

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A constant throughout the five-month process has been Musk’s commitment to embracing his vision of free speech, one that seems consistent with the lax content moderation measures that Republicans have championed.

“I don’t do Twitter for the money. It’s not like I’m trying to buy a yacht and I can’t afford it. I don’t own boats. But I think it’s important that people have the most trustworthy and inclusive means of exchanging ideas, and that it should be as trustworthy and transparent as possible,” said Musk, who previously described himself as a “free speech absolutist.” has, in an interview with the Financial Times published on Friday.

At the same time, he appears to be trying to separate his view from the one that governs the fringe sites that have sprung up to cater to right-wing users – including Trump’s Truth Social. He called the former president’s app “essentially a right-wing echo chamber.”

“It might as well be called a trumpet,” Musk said.

Musk’s own style of using Twitter could define the company’s leadership. During the on-going deal, he used his account on the platform to call top executives. At one point in May, for example, He tweeted a lonely poop emoji in response to a lengthy statement by Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal about bots.

“He’s a top-notch Twitter troll himself,” Paul Barrett, associate director of New York University’s Center for Business and Human Rights, told the Stern.

“He loves to insult people on Twitter and I think the fact that that’s his motivation as opposed to a clear business plan for Twitter or even a clear ideological plan… makes the situation very volatile and difficult to predict. Because I think a lot has to do with his moods and how he feels when he wakes up on any given day,” Barrett added.

This troll-like approach could see Twitter “slipping back into the ‘real cesspool’ it was five to 10 years ago, Barrett said. As Twitter grew during those years, it introduced more moderation measures to curb harassment and other forms of hate speech.

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Feminist group UltraViolet warned that Musk’s changes could hurt particularly marginalized communities online.

“If this deal goes through, Twitter will become an even more dangerous place for women, online threats of violence against black women and women of color will skyrocket, and anti-trans content will grab user feeds,” said Bridget Todd, communications director of UltraViolet said in a statement.

Musk has offered the most concrete insight into his plans for Twitter changes when it comes to the fate of Trump’s account.

Twitter was one of them the strictest steps taken by a tech company regarding Trump’s social media accounts following last year’s Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, imposing a permanent ban after the former president’s tweets about the riot that day were breached violated Twitter’s glorification of violence policy. Company executives have repeatedly stressed that the ban would be permanent even if Trump runs for office again.

But Musk has other plans. In May he said he would reverse the ban, calling it a “morally bad decision” and “extremely stupid”.

If Trump is allowed to access Twitter again, he would be given access to the account he used most to post online when he was running for president and while he was in office.

It could also influence other platforms to lift their bans against Trump.

“Loosening Twitter and allowing the former president to return to the platform would put pressure on the other platforms to do the same,” Barrett said.

Meta, the new name of Facebook’s parent company, has already teased the possibility of letting Trump back on board in January. The platform said Trump’s temporary suspension will be reassessed in 2023, two years after it was introduced.

“It’s likely that Meta will restore Donald Trump’s Facebook account, but it’s not certain, there’s clearly an engagement window there. It’s a guarantee that if Twitter does, they’ll recover his Facebook account, it’s a fact,” Carusone said.

The return of Trump or other banned figures could play a key role in the run-up to the 2024 election and in previous campaigns.

Carusone said the change in ownership of Twitter could affect the midterm races and narratives about their results until the new October date deal is finalized.

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“I don’t think he will allow Twitter to enforce these policies early, even in the immediate future. So I think the impact will certainly be smaller by mid-term than it was for 2024, but it will be felt. Especially in the races, which are very close and competitive,” he said.

While numbers on the left lament the possible changes, Musk’s vision for Twitter has been embraced on the right. Musk was cheered by Republicans, including Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who are poised to take control of the House Judiciary Committee if the GOP wins the House in November urge to buy the company.

“Two things the left hates: Elon Musk and the First Amendment,” Jordan tweeted Wednesday.

Musk’s renewed takeover efforts come as moderation of online content faces a tipping point.

Motivated by allegations that tech companies censor content with an anticonservative bias, Republican-led states are attempting to pass laws that would tie those companies’ hands if they attempt to remove posts or accounts that violate their policies. Florida and Texas are locked in litigation with tech industry groups over the laws, and one of the cases is likely to end up in the Supreme Court.

At the same time, another case involving controversial liability protections for technology companies, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, is due to be heard before the country’s Supreme Court in this session.

“The social media industry is now facing a kind of legal pincer maneuver with people attacking from very different directions, but all of these approaches, these attacks threaten the way the social media industry does business – and I think “Elon Musk, it’s a third threat,” Barrett said. “It’s not legislation and it’s not litigation, but it’s a threat from an unpredictable personality coming into possession of a major platform and possibly disrupting the general direction toward more self-regulation, particularly on the part of that platform.

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