Recall that former US president, Donald Trump used Twitter constantly to air his views before he got banned by the social media platform. With Musk, a self-proclaimed “free-speech absolutist” coming into the picture, the platform might be set for reforms on what he sees as the platform’s needless content moderation.
In a statement released by Twitter, Musk said, “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated. I also want to improve Twitter by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans.”
With Musk’s bid, the publicly traded firm will now become a private company, with a purchase price of $54.20 per share. Twitter revealed that Musk secured $25.5 billion of debt and margin loan financing and is providing a commitment of $21 billion equity.
Musk, who is worth $268 billion according to Forbes, has claimed that he is concerned with the economics of Twitter.
In a recent public talk, Musk said, “Having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important to the future of civilization. I don’t care about the economics at all.”
The White House has declined to comment on Musk’s deal but expressed President Joe Biden’s concerns about the power of social media platforms. Jen Psaki, the White House spokesperson said, “Our concerns are not new.
The president has long talked about his concerns about the power of social media platforms, including Twitter and others, to spread misinformation.”
Social Media and the Arab Spring
Social media played a remarkable role in influencing activism in the Arab world. The uprisings in the Arab world received a huge boost from online protesters who organized major protests that led to unrest in several cities across the Middle East and North Africa.
The Arab Spring, which is widely known as the Facebook or Twitter revolution, sent shock waves to regimes across the Arab world.
Interestingly, it started with an argument between a Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, and a police officer over a fruit and vegetable cart, on the morning of December 17, 2010. The police had seized his goods as he had no permits to trade.
Mohamed tried to reach out to the governor at the provincial government building in Sidi Bouzid for help, but he refused to see him. Mohamed proceeded to set himself alight on the street outside in an act of protest, thereby provoking weeks of demonstrations, which eventually led to the unseating of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who had been serving as president for 23 years. This incident marked the start of the Arab Spring.
Ever since many countries across the Middle East have also felt the heat of the Arab Spring. In many cases, political dissidents weaponize social media to incite violence against perceived political enemies. While it’s harsh to say social media caused the Arab Spring, it’s safe to say that social media enabled it.
For instance, in Tunisia, towards the 2019 elections, according to a report by Democracy Reporting International Tunisia and the Tunisian Association for Integrity and Democracy of Elections (ATIDE), Facebook pages were weaponized to spread political disruptive messages by unknown political actors in a move to sway the vote.
Again, in Saudi Arabia, “a troll army” was organized to suppress any voice of dissent on social media channels like Twitter. Despite the obvious adverse effects of the roles played by social media giants, it’s worrisome that there have not been effective policies made to curtail these menaces.
Twitter and the End of SARS Protests
On October 4, 2020, a video was circulating on the internet showing SARS officers dragging two men from a hotel, and also shooting one of them outside. This led to protests across Nigeria a few days later. In a swift move to address this chaos, the Nigerian government disbanded SARS on 11 October.
However, this was the 5th time since 2015 that the Nigerian government vowed to reform the police and disband SARS. The people wanted more than mere promises and the protests continued. The youths used Twitter to mobilize agitators to press home their major demand of putting an end to police brutality.
Now, the TWIST! Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, on Oct. 14, got involved. He tweeted two links with the hashtag #EndSARS, the first was to a page compiling stories of victims of SARS and police brutality in Nigeria’s tech community, and another to the official website of the Feminist Coalition – which was more or less a show of endorsement for the group.
Dorsey didn’t stop there. He went further to make a tweet calling for Bitcoin donations “to help #EndSARS.” And with the help of Dorsey’s endorsement, the Feminist Coalition was able to raise $150,000 in Bitcoin donations after its bank account was deactivated by Nigerian authorities.
Twitter also verified the handle of the Feminist Coalition as well as those of some of its members and other protest front liners. Boosted by Twitter, the coalition managed to fund more than 154 protests across Nigeria and successfully raised more than $190,000. On October 20, Nigerian security forces fired at the demonstrators in Lagos.
The exact number of those killed remains unknown to date. Several misleading tweets on Twitter speculated on the number of people killed. The BIG QUESTION – what’s Twitter’s interest in chaos and complete breakdown of order in Nigeria?
Twitter and Speech Censoring
In an audacious move, Twitter deleted from its platform a tweet made by the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari which read: “Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.”
This tweet was made in reaction to the security unrest in the South Eastern region of the county. However, a Twitter spokesperson said the post “violated the Twitter Rules. The account owner will be required to delete the violative Tweet and spend 12 hours with their account in read-only mode”.
Twitter eventually deleted the tweet, a move which angered the Nigerian government. The Minister for Information, Lai Mohammed expressed concerns that “Twitter may have its own rules; it’s not the universal rule”, while also adding that if the president felt “concerned about a situation, he is free to express such views”.
He went further to say that Twitter had not banned incitement tweets from other groups. This incident led to a Twitter ban from June 5, 2021, to January 13, 2022. The matter was resolved after a series of meetings between Twitter representatives and Nigerian government negotiators, with the government later announcing that Twitter had agreed to some undisclosed conditions to continue operations in Nigeria.
With Elon Musk’s goal of advancing free speech on Twitter, won’t that enable perpetrators of disinformation to cause more chaos? How would the thin line between free speech and the truth be controlled? How would Twitter ensure that its platform is not weaponized? Only time can tell.