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Elon Musk shared details on Twitter’s content moderation plan.

by John Paul
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With the months-long tale of Elon Musk agreeing to acquire Twitter, backing out of the agreement, facing court challenges, and ultimately completing the acquisition behind him, Musk has revealed additional information about his strategy for content control on the platform. But how would Musk, an outspoken advocate for the right to free expression, approach content moderation? This is still to be determined, but the multibillionaire has not stopped tweeting about his intentions for the site. Musk decided to buy Twitter to fix the content moderation issue, which he saw as a weakness of the site, which led to the temporary and permanent banning of public personalities.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is regularly referenced in online discussions about a suggested idea of free expression. However, the First Amendment only shields American citizens from governmental infringements on their free expression, not private companies like Facebook or Twitter. As a result, the private corporations that operate social media platforms can remove the content at any time. In Musk’s opinion, taking Twitter private is the only solution to the company’s content control problems. Musk, who is worth over $200 billion, therefore purchased Twitter for $44 billion and now serves as the company’s only director of content control.

Musk must strike a balance between several competing priorities when deciding how to restrict access to content. The first is the risk of legal action should the host instigate or promote speech that could be construed as hateful or violent. Generally speaking, none of these methods of expression are prohibited by law. Another interesting fact is that according to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, “no supplier or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any material given by another information content provider.” This effectively shields Twitter and Musk from any responsibility for the content shared on their respective platforms. But I can’t promise that this will always be the case. In 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice began reviewing Section 230 of the Criminal Code, and further future assessments of the law are possible.

Twitter also has to strike a balance between the needs of its users and those of advertisers, who provide the majority of the company’s revenue. Musk cannot tolerate content on the service that makes its advertising partners look bad; otherwise, those partners would look elsewhere to put their money. One of the top U.S. automakers, General Motors, has reportedly suspended advertising on Twitter until the company provides more details on its content moderation plan, as reported by CNBC. Musk wrote a message to Twitter’s advertisers to discourage them from leaving the platform. “The reasons I purchased Twitter and my views on advertising have been the subject of much speculation,” Musk added. In other words, “Twitter definitely cannot be a free-for-all hellscape, where anything may be spoken with no consequences.”

Free expression and encouraging open discussion appear to be of paramount importance to Musk. Musk announced the group’s formation in a tweet, saying, “Twitter will be organizing a content moderation committee with vastly diverse opinions.” Before that council meets, no major content decisions or account reinstatements will be made. The businessman did not elaborate on what he meant by “widely diversified opinions.” However, he did describe Twitter’s present stance in a nutshell. Musk said in a quote retweet, “To be absolutely clear, we have not yet made any modifications to Twitter’s content moderation standards.”

The question is, then, what may Musk’s content moderation council consist of. Musk’s motivations can be guessed because he hasn’t been forthcoming with details. Ideally, the content moderation committee would include liberal and conservative journalists and legal specialists. As an analogy, consider the Disinformation Governance Board planned by the Department of Homeland Security, swiftly shelved due to first amendment issues. The board’s purpose was to make content-related decisions and issue content warnings, something that cannot come from a government institution but would work for Twitter. Musk’s content moderation panel, once activated, will likely try to allay concerns that Twitter’s moderation policy is founded on a political approach.



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