Twitter: “Elon Musk has an absolutist vision of freedom of expression”, says the head of Reporters Without Borders

The view of Christophe Deloire, Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), on the new boss of Twitter, Elon Musk. The bubbling billionaire has had spectacular success with Tesla and Space X. But his arrival at the head of one of the most influential social networks in the world raises questions.

The first measures taken by Elon Musk at the head of Twitter arouse the concern of the public authorities in France. Is it justified?

There was reason to be scared even before Elon Musk arrived, because it was obvious that all of this could happen. We have been ringing the alarm bells for years about the mind-boggling power acquired by the billionaires at the head of the platforms.

Elon Musk is the extreme demonstration of this danger. It is the one that suggests that the truth comes from the vote of the people of Twitter.

The one who is also decimating this social network. This also poses a social question and we can see in it behavior, here again, extreme, disdaining the rights of workers.

He is a man who has an absolutist vision of freedom of expression and who has decided to put Twitter at the service of his ideology.

Facing him, the European Commission says that the Twitter bird will have to fly, in the skies of Europe, on its terms. So yes, Europe is the one that has regulated the most. But it is to be feared that its legislation is not sufficient in the face of such a “bird”.

Arcom questioned this week on Twitter’s ability to maintain a safe environment after the wave of layoffs. What can be the risk?

It’s not just about content moderation, it’s also about how Twitter’s algorithm works.

Because extreme, hateful content can find itself in an advantageous place on social networks. These algorithms are now escaping their own designer. There is a Frankenstein side, the machine begins to become a monster.

And Musk’s behavior promotes that, he’s someone who obviously doesn’t care as his first computer has moderation systems to mitigate the perverse effects of algorithms.

This raises the question of the relay of hate messages and fake news on social networks when many people consider them as a source of information…

It is a source of information, even if it does not produce information, it distributes it, the question is does it do so under democratic conditions? I am registered on Twitter and I find that there are many interesting things, there is not only hatred and this platform has a virtue: the information which is relevant for me comes to me because of the functioning in affluence of the subscriptions that I have chosen.

Twitter is the platform that will bring me a paper from the other side of the world from a site or a magazine that I don’t know and that will interest me. It was the original promise and it is beautiful.

But as on other platforms, mechanisms are needed to promote the reliability of information. Today, the platforms make a lot of promises in this area, but when it comes to taking concrete action, they do nothing. It really is the world of hypocrisy!

An example: the European Commission has negotiated with platforms and civil society what is called the code of practice against disinformation. And a fairly light commitment was requested: to offer reliability indicators to subscribers if they so wish. Well, out of fourteen platforms, only Microsoft accepted!

The platforms have now changed their discourse, they say they want regulation, but in reality they are trying to evade democratic principles.

Donald Trump’s account, banned from the social network, is back. Do you approve of this measure in the name of freedom of expression?

I am no more for the deletion of Donald Trump’s account than for his return. But I deeply believe that democratic institutions must have their say. Because it is an arbitrary decision and it is today in the hands of one man, Elon Musk, who has a political project.

This question of account deletions, so it must not be just the freedom of Musk, Zuckerberg, or others, as is the case today (Elon Musk announced, Friday, November 25, the restoration of accounts suspended on Twitter, provided they did not break the law or send spam in outrageous ways, editor’s note).

But we know what a person is, what a media is, but social network accounts are new objects that are not captured by the law today. What is needed is to develop a legal framework on the rights and duties of social media accounts and the processes, graduation, quantums of sanctions in case of infringement.

These are new subjects and which, in my opinion, are not dealt with today by European law, which focuses instead on illegal content. However, advertising, rumours, lies are legal, except in certain aspects of economic life, but these are questions that are just as important.

Today, this is, again, the arbitrariness of Musk. All of this needs to be framed and the Forum on Information and Democracy that we initiated at RSF has made proposals in this direction.

The threat is not limited to the single case of Twitter, you called for regaining control of digital technology in “The Matrix” (at Calmann-Levy), a premonitory work…

It is clear that this “matrix”, which is this system for organizing our public debate and our private communication, is controlled by individuals, by their affects and their interests.

I didn’t think the book would be so topical. THE MATRIX is this invisible system which replaces “public space”, gradually destroying democracy and peace. Let’s take control before it’s too late.

— Christophe Deloire (@cdeloire) March 17, 2022

The advances should not be underestimated, but we are still a long way from regaining democratic control. For example, in the DSA (the European law on digital services, Editor’s note), there are assessments of the systemic danger of platforms, but… it is the platforms that will carry them out.

It’s a bit like asking glyphosate producers if it is dangerous to health! We know what happens like this…

Twitter remains a great communication tool, but can it also pose a threat to democracy?

Yes, because like the other platforms, an arbitrary machine, very little subject to democratic regulation, even if it is starting to be, with Europe, and which, moreover, it has at its head a man quite imbued with his power.

Afterwards, is Elon Musk more dangerous for democracy than for Twitter? Maybe Twitter will come before democracy…

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