As soon as he arrived, Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter, imposed his style: authoritarian. He dissolved the board of directors, fired the managers and fired half the company’s employees. This mass dismissal can (almost) remain insignificant if we do not look at the details of the roles of the people dismissed: some critical departments for our democracies have been eliminated or drastically reduced.
The human rights group was completely removed. Its main mission is to protect users who are victims of human rights violations around the world, such as activists, journalists or even individuals who are at risk in the context of a war, especially the Russian war in Ukraine. The team in charge of programming, which carried out content moderation missions in terms of disinformation, was completely dismissed. The team responsible for public affairs, including elections and auditing the accounts of public figures, was reduced by half.
A freed bird
So, that the bird was “freed” may make us happy, but Elon Musk’s concept of freedom of expression seems to include racist, anti-Semitic insults, death threats or even lies that constitute massive manipulation of information and destroy our democracies. If the moderation of hate content was not enough before the arrival of Musk, the dynamic launched by the entrepreneur risks destroying the little progress that has been made in recent years in favor of laissez-faire. In fact, we can already see the return of many extremist accounts on the platform, as the midterm elections in the United States are just days away.
Finally, it seems that the decision will now be made to issue a blue badge without verifying the quality of the person, even though the certification is intended to distinguish fake accounts from official accounts of public figures. Anyone who pays 8 dollars (7.70 €) for a monthly subscription will be entitled to it, de facto ending the “certification” function in favor of a public debate that provides a bonus of visibility and legitimacy on the sole basis of ability to pay.
The social networks we love
The threats caused by Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter are added to the already known limitations of dominant social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.): use of personal data for advertising purposes, algorithmic confinement leading to radicalization opinion and public debate, anonymity promoting hate speech and cyberbullying, etc.
The acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk has created a momentum to regain power in our social networks, in Europe. We want platforms with no cyberbullying, no hate speech, no manipulation of information on a large scale, pluralistic platforms where everyone is real express opinion freely with respect to others: this is not (just) a dream.
First, this momentum is an opportunity to forcefully remind that European regulations – GDPR, but also the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA) – are important on European soil, thus protecting the European users against all kinds of abuse: misinformation, harassment, etc. Thierry Breton, the European commissioner in charge of the internal market, correctly reminded Elon Musk: the blue bird will fly according to European rules.
Elon Musk is forced to comply, under a fine of up to 6% of the company’s annual turnover. In the event of a repeat offense, the penalties may extend to the suspension of Twitter in Europe, temporarily or permanently in the worst case. This is probably not a desirable option, but it is a possible option if Elon Musk does not follow European rules: the ball is in his court.
This momentum can also be an opportunity to explore new models of social networks. European alternatives to Twitter already exist: Mastodon, for example, is the biggest player in the Twitter niche and is growing. He’s not perfect. Since it is run by volunteer developers, the user experience there degrades, but improves as the number of users increases. Concerns also weigh on the confidentiality of the data: due to the decentralized management of the network, they are open source, but in return cannot be hacked.
It seems that the same goodwill reigns there between the users… a word that we have forgotten on Twitter. Beyond the Mastodon example, we call for the emergence of new, innovative platform models that are more respectful of our values, our rights and personal data. European regulators, digital entrepreneurs, developers and investors, we count on you!