TORONTO — Canada and governments around the world could derail Elon Musk’s plans to ease restrictions on Twitter in the name of free speech, social media and anti-hate experts say.
They believe Musk, a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” whose $44 billion bid to take over the platform was approved by Twitter’s board on Monday, will face several regulatory hurdles then that he strives to create “an inclusive arena for free speech”. “
Among the challenges are Canada’s plans to reintroduce a bill aimed at reducing hate speech on online platforms like Twitter, and the European Union, which already warned Musk on Tuesday that the company must obey the rules of local content targeting harmful and false information.
“The general principles of freedom of speech become much more complicated as you have to factor in questions around the kinds of moderation that are already happening…and what different governments are already doing to put pressure on Twitter and how Twitter is trying to respond to that,” said Heidi Tworek, Senior Fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation and Canada Research Chair at the University of British Columbia.
“It won’t just be an American issue. It will be an Indian issue, a European issue, et cetera, et cetera.”
Musk’s bid to buy the platform still requires approval from US shareholders and regulators, but he has previously tweeted that he plans to make the platform’s algorithms open source to boost trust, defeat spambots and authenticate all humans.
“But how much is publicity and how much is reality?” interviewed Carmen Celestini, a University of Waterloo teacher specializing in religion and conspiracy theories.
“There are no boundaries online or on Twitter and so he will always have to respect individual laws as they are created.”
With Musk’s bid to take over Twitter not expected to be closed until the end of the year, how he will approach regulation is still unknown, but Tworek believes his approach is worth watching as Musk has indulged in allegations of online harassment.
She cites incidents when Musk faced a defamation lawsuit in 2019 after he compared British cave diver Vernon Unsworth to a pedophile on Twitter and other times he lashed out at journalists who criticized him. .
Michele Austin, Twitter’s director of public policy for Canada and the United States, answered questions on Tuesday from MPs on the public safety committee about Musk’s potential impact. She said: “I can’t speculate what Mr. Musk might or might not do,” adding that the deal was still ongoing.
At the same committee, Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said Musk’s takeover of Twitter was “an incredibly terrible development” and that the power he will wield is very concerning.
Fareed Khan, founder of Canadians United Against Hate, believes Musk’s track record, coupled with his Twitter offering, should put regulators, governments and Canada on their toes.
“Putting complete control of one of the world’s most influential social media megaphones, with hundreds of millions of subscribers, into the hands of a man who believes in absolute freedom of speech is dangerous, would have major negative social and political repercussions, and could lead to those with huge Twitter following destabilizing societies if they so choose,” he said in a press release.
He pointed out that former US President Donald Trump successfully incited attacks on the Capitol in Washington, D.C. in January 2021 with his tweets, after spending months on the platform falsely claiming the US election was fraudulent. .
“This happened under restrictions put in place by current Twitter management, so we can only imagine what could happen without any restrictions under Musk’s ownership,” Khan said.
Although many believe Musk’s ownership of Twitter will only attract more harmful material to the platform, Celestini said such messages are already proliferating on the website.
Instead, she looks at the big picture as if Musk is a “brilliant spokesperson” because of the hype he’s been fighting for himself.
Due to her offering on Twitter, she has seen people on the political left worry about being surrounded by extreme online material promoted under the guise of free speech, but those on the right feel victorious and have the feel like they will have a way to voice their opinions. .
“So what it creates is this kind of moral panic and vindication on both sides of the political spectrum,” she said.
“In a way, we fall into the publicity he wants and create speculation that ignites both sides.”
— With reporting by Marie Woolf in Ottawa
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 26, 2022.