Compliance with Authoritarian Demands
Since Elon Musk’s $44 billion acquisition of Twitter last October, the social media giant has rarely rejected content restriction or censorship requests from countries like Turkey and India. These nations have recently passed laws that limit freedom of speech and press.
Contradiction to Free Speech Absolutism
Despite Elon Musk’s public stance as a free speech absolutist, data provided by Twitter to a public audit reveals that the platform has yielded to hundreds of government orders during his first six months of ownership. This compliance extends to blocking accounts critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey just before the recent elections.
India’s Media Chokehold
In India, where media suppression and autocratic tendencies prevail, Twitter has also supported government bans. Musk justified this compliance by emphasizing the strict regulations imposed by India, stating that Twitter cannot go against the laws of the country. However, this puts Twitter employees at risk.
Censoring Dissenting Voices
The removal of content related to a critical BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which was blocked by the Indian government in January, highlights Twitter’s compliance. The documentary questioned Modi’s leadership during the 2002 Gujarat riots, where numerous Muslims lost their lives.
Decline of Press Freedom
India’s press freedom has significantly declined, according to NGO Reporters Without Borders. The country now ranks 150th globally, and incidents such as tax authorities raiding local BBC offices in response to the documentary’s blockade illustrate the extent of the media crackdown.
Erdogan’s Control and Opposition Accusations
In Turkey, the government’s control over national media is extensive, and the opposition accuses President Erdogan’s administration of attempting to rein in critical voices by targeting social networks, the last stronghold of dissent.
Sharp Increase in Government Requests
Since Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, the company’s compliance with autocratic or non-liberal governments has significantly escalated. Data from a public audit reveals a striking rise in government requests, with 971 received since Musk’s acquisition compared to 338 in the preceding six-month period (October 2021 to April 2022).
Alarming Compliance Rates
Twitter’s compliance rates with government requests have surged under Musk’s ownership. Out of the received requests, the company fully acceded to 808 and partially acceded to 154, marking an 83% compliance rate. This represents a notable increase from the previous compliance rate of 50% before the change in ownership.
Musk’s Interpretation of Free Speech
Elon Musk has expressed his perspective on free speech, defining it as conforming to the law rather than going beyond it. He argues against censorship that exceeds legal boundaries and believes that if people desire limitations on free speech, they should advocate for legislative measures.
Turkey’s Election Restriction
Ahead of Turkey’s recent elections, Twitter announced content restrictions in response to legal processes. The specifics of the blocked accounts were not disclosed, but critics suggest that profiles exposing corruption within President Erdogan’s circle, pro-Kurdish accounts, and critical comments on the 2016 coup were affected. This move aligns with Ankara’s efforts to combat foreign influence in the media.
Pattern of Internet Control
Turkey has a history of restricting access to online platforms. Notably, Twitter experienced temporary shutdowns, and Wikipedia faced bans (later reversed) in the country. Such actions resemble similar measures employed by Russia against NGOs and Hungary’s control over public universities.
Election Interference and Autocratic Demands
On the eve of a crucial election in Turkey, Twitter is facing accusations of yielding to the demands of the country’s autocratic leader, Erdogan, by censoring speech on its platform. The lack of transparency from Twitter raises concerns about Elon Musk’s commitment to free speech, with critics viewing his promises as mere slogans rather than principled actions.
Shift in Musk’s Stance
Elon Musk’s political alignment has undergone a noticeable shift, moving away from initially leaning toward Democratic positions. In November, he called for Republican support in the United States midterm elections, further raising doubts about the authenticity of his dedication to free speech.
Twitter’s Distorted Influence: The Risk of Unmoderated Platforms
Twitter’s Slippery Slope
Twitter’s lack of moderation and control mechanisms, driven by cost-cutting measures under Musk’s ownership, has led the platform to assume a troubling role in distorting public opinion and spreading disinformation. This bears resemblance to Facebook’s past controversies, where growth was prioritized over tackling hate messages that fueled conflicts and even genocidal campaigns.
Musk’s Republican Alignment
Elon Musk’s increasing alignment with Republican ideals and deregulatory policies raises concerns about the future of Twitter. With global events like the Ukraine conflict and upcoming U.S. presidential elections, an unmoderated Twitter owned by Musk could potentially resemble Facebook’s dark precedents.
Storm Clouds Gather
Since Musk assumed control of Twitter, there has been a noticeable increase in negative and hateful messages on the platform. This worrisome trend serves as an indicator of potential trouble on the horizon.
Autocrats Seeking Revalidation
World leaders like Modi in India and Erdogan in Turkey, both seeking re-election, share a common authoritarian characteristic. While Twitter’s compliance with Erdogan appears to align with his goals, its impact on Modi’s political standing seems limited, as evidenced by recent electoral results in India’s Karnataka state.
Musk’s Crusade and Unsubstantiated Claims
Musk has been vocal about his platform’s commitment to avoiding censorship and promoting free speech. However, his claims about government censorship and the release of leaked documents have been criticized for lacking evidence and potentially fueling conspiracy theories among Republicans.