Twitter’s Loosening of Content Rules Will Breed Hate Speech

On April 25, Elon Musk came to an agreement with Twitter’s board of directors to buy the company for approximately $44 billion. The acquisition will occur over a few months, but Musk, who regularly utilizes the platform to engage with his 90 million followers, has already outlined a few of his goals for the platform, which include reducing bots and increasing “free speech.” He has said that he sees the platform as a town square where anyone should be able to share their views, and it is clear he has no intention of limiting hate speech or the spread of conspiracy theories on the platform. Instead, he will likely allow them to flourish under the guise of free speech. 

In multiple past interviews, Musk has defended his own comments on the platform by comparing it to a war zone.  The Tesla CEO has been known to be openly transphobic, tweeting that “all these pronouns are an esthetic [sic] nightmare” in 2020, and he often panders to right-wing advocates of free speech who simply want the right to bully other people online. Additionally, the billionaire has used his personal account to harass Twitter employees and has encouraged his large fan base to attack other users until they shut down their accounts. 

Although this history would be problematic for most companies, Twitter’s shareholders are clearly looking for the deal that will be the most financially beneficial for them in the short term. If Musk’s takeover is anything like he plans, many users opposed to his vision of unregulated tweeting may decide to leave the platform, which has been the center of attention in the debate around free expression for a while now. After the Jan. 6 riots on Capitol Hill, the platform banned former President Trump, dethroning him from his communication outlet of choice and angering many of his followers. Many conservative advocates decried this as an infringement on free speech, but as a private company, Twitter is well within its right to decide what does or doesn’t belong on the platform.

Users who have accused the social media platform of censoring their views hope that Musk’s takeover will free their speech and opinions from the “restrictive” Twitter community guidelines. However, the platform spent the last decade maintaining what it considered to be free speech with little moderation, only realizing that the lack of moderation was creating instability among its over 200 million users during the 2016 and 2020 U.S. presidential elections. Misinformation about political and social issues ran rampant, and harassment of targeted groups sharply increased during the periods of time when Twitter took a more hands-off approach to moderation. Twitter has since made a weak attempt to rein in hate speech and conspiracy theories, often looking the other way when such rhetoric comes from high-ranking public officials in what seems to be a move to increase the popularity of the platform by breeding controversy.

With Musk in charge, any progress Twitter made in its attempts to moderate bullies and falsehoods will rapidly disappear, and the social media town square will once again be open to hate speech.