By Tom Ozimek
When Elon Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion, he expanded his reach to five companies, spanning multiple industries, whose intersection with the government put the tech mogul and his growing global influence on the White House radar.
Musk has made it his mission to cure what he calls the “woke mind virus.” To some, his purchase of Twitter several months ago was just what the doctor ordered.
“$44 Billion was not the cost of Twitter. It was the cost of restoring ‘Free Speech,’” the Twitter account DogeDesigner posted last week.
“Some things are priceless,” Musk tweeted.
Not long after Musk took over, he reinstated several banned accounts—including former President Donald Trump—and unlocked a trove of internal Twitter communications known as the Twitter Files, which shed light on the depth of the company’s censorship and bias against conservative voices.
But while many on the right side of the political spectrum have praised Musk’s moves since taking over Twitter, others have expressed reservations.
President Joe Biden reacted with concern to news of Musk’s purchase of Twitter and subsequent moves to slash jobs, which slimmed the company’s content moderation team.
“What are we all worried about? Elon Musk goes out and buys an outfit that sends and spews lies all across the world,” Biden said at a Democratic fundraiser in Illinois several days after the Twitter buyout deal came to fruition.
“There’s no editors anymore in America,” he added. “How do we expect kids to be able to understand what is at stake?”
Irina Tsukerman, a national security lawyer and geopolitical analyst, told The Epoch Times that some worry that Musk’s commitment to free speech is too absolute and that indiscriminate treatment of foreign accounts on Twitter threatens U.S. interests.
“He has failed to shut down outright genocidal and provocative discourse by actors adversarial to the U.S., such as Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei, various IRGC functionaries, the Taliban, and Russia-linked accounts,” she said in an emailed statement.
“There is also a concern about lack of interest and monitoring of extremist discourse in foreign languages such as Arabic, Farsi, and Chinese,” Tsukerman added.
Biden was asked in November whether he thought Musk was a threat to U.S. national security and if the participation of a Saudi Arabia-linked investor in the purchase of Twitter should be investigated.
“Elon Musk’s cooperation and/or technical relationships with other countries is worthy of being looked at,” Biden said at a Nov. 9, 2022, press conference.
“Whether or not he is doing anything inappropriate—I’m not suggesting that. I’m suggesting it’s worth being looked at. But that’s all I’ll say,” he added.
The Epoch Times has contacted Twitter and the White House for comment.
‘Not a Right Wing Takeover’
Some critics have raised concerns that increased freedom to troll came with more freedom of speech on Twitter.
Current and former Twitter employees reportedly told BBC reporter Marianna Spring that features meant to protect Twitter users from harassment and trolling were proving hard to maintain.
“The investigation made clear Twitter was never perfect. But it had exposed how hate is thriving under Twitter’s new owner,” Spring wrote. “Current and former Twitter employees told me ‘nobody is taking care of’ features designed to protect users from hate and harm.”
Musk reacted to Spring’s article by suggesting on Twitter that such concerns were overblown.
“Sorry for turning Twitter from nurturing paradise into a place that has … trolls,” Musk wrote.
Musk has acknowledged that free and open communication risks being offensive, but the trade-off is worth it.
“Worth noting that the left is not being censored either,” Musk said in a follow-up comment. “This is not a right wing takeover, but rather a centrist takeover.”
Whatever the nature of the takeover, Musk has pledged to allow more free speech on the platform while vowing to prevent it from becoming a “free-for-all hellscape.”
Tsukerman said that Musk’s selective reinstatement of banned accounts undermines the case that Twitter is a neutral marketplace for exchanging ideas.
“Musk seems to have given preferences to celebrity accounts and voices that reflect his own preferred brand of politics,” she said, adding that some accounts of Americans critical of U.S. foreign or domestic policies were never reinstated.
“Knowingly allowing foreign propagandists to conduct operations utilizing this platform damages the credibility of American companies and makes it more difficult for U.S. law enforcement and security agencies to guard U.S. interests,” Tsukerman said.
Meanwhile, at the end of January, Twitter Safety said it has been “proactively” reinstating previously banned accounts and that anyone whose account remains suspended can appeal the ban, which will be re-evaluated under less stringent criteria.
“Going forward, we will take less severe actions, such as limiting the reach of policy-violating Tweets or asking you to remove Tweets before you can continue using your account. Account suspension will be reserved for severe or ongoing, repeat violations of our policies,” Twitter Safety said in a post.
At the same time, Twitter Safety said it hadn’t reinstated accounts where there was illegal activity or when there was no recent appeal to have the account ban lifted.
Meanwhile, the reach of hate speech on Twitter has declined more than expected under Musk, according to a recent independent assessment by Sprinklr.
“Sprinklr’s AI-powered model found that the reach of hate speech on Twitter is even lower than our own model quantified,” Twitter Safety said in a tweet earlier this month.
The Sprinklr analysis found that hate speech on Twitter gets fewer impressions per tweet than non-toxic slur tweets.