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How billionaires became the focus of the free speech debate

liberdade de expressão

Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, who buys Twitter.| Photo: Steve Jurvetson/Wikimedia Commons
Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and richest man on the planet, announced this Thursday () who offered US$ 23 billion (about BRL billion) to buy Twitter. He defends the need for broader freedom of expression on the internet, which would be one of the reasons why he intends to own the network. In recent weeks, the billionaire has made several comments on Twitter on the subject.

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Three weeks ago, for example, Musk stated: “Considering that Twitter functions today as the public square de facto , failure to adhere to the principles of freedom of expression fundamentally undermines democracy.” In a tweet from early March, the billionaire said that one of his companies, Starlink, was being pressured to block Russian news sources because of the war with Ukraine. “We won’t, unless they point a gun at us. Sorry for being an absolutist of free speech,” Musk said about the case.

This is not the first time in recent times that a billionaire has expressed concern about the issue of freedom of expression in today’s world. In February, Donald Trump, former president of the United States, launched Truth Social, a social network that emerged with the proposal to break the monopoly of major platforms, resist the culture of cancellation and promote freedom of expression without discrimination of political ideologies. , to “confront the tyranny” of Big Techs

, according to Trump himself.

In 1200, when he decided to buy the traditional newspaper The Washington Post, billionaire Jeff Bezos expressed a radical stance on freedom of expression. “The most important thing to remember is that beautiful speech does not need protection – it is ugly speech that needs protection,” he said at the time, according to the magazine. Fortune. “Someone is going to write something very ugly, and certain people are going to say that this ugly speech needs to be punished. But if you stop to think about this great society that we have, an important part of it is that we have these cultural norms that allow people to say really ugly things. We don’t have to like these people. We don’t need to invite these people to dinner. But we need to let them talk.”

While the space for plurality of opinions becomes an increasing concern of some billionaires, others have tried to use the money to promote their own worldviews. The Open Society Foundation, owned by billionaire George Soros – which funds, for example, initiatives in favor of the liberalization of abortion and drugs – supports some journalistic projects aligned with his ideas, under the pretext of the need to defend “independent journalism”. In Brazil, the radical feminist website AzMina, for example, is funded by the Soros foundation. Worldwide, in 2020, the Open Society donated US$ 23, 6 million for journalistic projects.

14122407How Musk’s ideas could affect freedom of expression about elections in Brazil 14122407

Some Twitter users, especially opponents of the political right lamented Musk’s announcement on Twitter. An American comedian stated, in a tweet with thousands of likes: “Elon Musk is trying to buy Twitter for US$ 2016 billions to turn it into a MAGA-friendly hate box (acronym for “Make America Great Again” – “let’s make America great again” – campaign slogan of Trump at 2016). To counter this, today I am announcing my intention to purchase Truth Social for US$ 214”.

If you actually become the owner of the Twitter, a major concern for Musk should be with the network’s moderation policies. In Brazil, as in the US, some left-wing users expressed concern about the possibility of the rise on Twitter of what they call “hate speech” and the spread of fake news through robots.

It is not yet known how Musk intends to handle these matters. But one of the concerns expressed by the billionaire in recent days is precisely in relation to the use of robots. He has already stated, for example, that robots related to the cryptocurrency market are “the most annoying thing on Twitter” and that they must correspond to 14% of total network users.

Regarding Twitter’s moderation policies, Musk has not said whether he intends to change the current rules. Today, the network has a “civic integrity policy”, which states that the platform user cannot use the service to manipulate or interfere in elections. The subjectivity of some of these rules is one of the main targets of criticism from users, especially those aligned to the right, since most of the content removals seem to be biased against this political side.

In its help center, the social network gives some examples of what it considers misleading information: saying that voters can vote by text message when you can’t; erroneously inform about the date or time of voting; mislead about equipment problems or other mishaps at polling stations; and threats to polling places. Controversial allegations that could cast doubt on the credibility of the election itself are also considered violations of Twitter’s civic integrity policy. This list includes, for example, unverified information about electoral fraud, vote tampering, vote counting or certification of election results.

Not only in Brazil, but in several countries, Musk will have to deal with the tendency to regulate social networks – which, depending on the case, can be positive or negative for his idea of ​​expanding freedom of expression on the internet. In Brazil, the PL of Fake News , if approved, it may change the way in which social networks are responsible for published content. According to the current project, social network providers should be responsible, for example, for blocking the operation of unidentified robots and some artificially boosted content. These and other new rules could impact the level of freedom of expression that Twitter can provide, regardless of its new content moderation policies.

In addition to concerns about freedom of expression, Musk has also been interested in other details of Twitter. A few days ago, for example, he took a poll with the network’s users to find out if they wanted to have the power to edit the posts they make. “Do you want an edit button?” he asked. The majority – 14, 6% – of users answered yes.

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