Human rights organisations expressed alarm Monday over hate speech on Twitter and the power that Elon Musk’s acquisition of the social media platform would give the billionaire, after Musk’s self-described “free speech absolutist” clinching a deal to take it private.
Musk, who is also the CEO of electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla Inc, has defined himself as a “free speech absolutist” who has criticised Twitter’s content moderation practises. He has stated that Twitter must evolve into a true place for free expression. Musk praised free expression as “the basis of a functioning democracy” in a statement released after winning the contract on Monday.
Human rights campaigners underlined that Twitter is not simply another business. “Regardless of who controls Twitter, the corporation has a human rights obligation to uphold the rights of the platform’s users worldwide. Changes to its policies, features, and algorithms, large and little, may have disproportionate and often deadly consequences, including offline violence,” Deborah Brown, a Human Rights Watch digital rights researcher and campaigner, told Reuters in an email.
“Freedom of expression is not an absolute right, which is why Twitter must invest in safeguarding the platform’s most vulnerable users,” she said.
Twitter did not reply quickly to a request for comment on the groups’ concerns.
“While Elon Musk is an ACLU member and one of our most vocal advocates, there is a great deal of risk in concentrating so much power in the hands of a single guy,” Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told Reuters following the merger’s announcement.
Amnesty International expressed worry about any move made by Twitter following Musk’s acquisition to weaken enforcement of regulations and processes aimed at moderating hate speech online.
“The last thing we need is a Twitter that willfully ignores violent and abusive speech directed at users, particularly those who are disproportionately impacted, such as women, non-binary people, and others,” Michael Kleinman, Amnesty International USA’s director of technology and human rights, said on Monday.