Elon Musk’s Pre-Election Tweets Raise Questions on Twitter Neutrality

Elon Musk used his Twitter megaphone to woo “independent voters” on Monday, urging them to vote Republican in Tuesday’s US midterm elections and enter the national political debate that tech executives have tried so hard to stay out of — and therefore their platforms. . it would not be seen as favoring one side over the other.

Musk, who bought Twitter for $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3,37,465 crore), has expressed political views in the past, both on and off the platform. But the outright endorsement of one group over another as he owns it raises questions about Twitter’s ability to remain neutral under the rule of the world’s richest man.

“Shared power mitigates the worst excesses of both parties, so I recommend voting for a Republican Congress, as the Presidency is Democratic,” Musk said on Twitter.

It’s one thing for the CEO of Wendy’s or Chick-fil-A to support a political party, said Jennifer Stromer-Galley, a professor at Syracuse University who studies communications and politics. It is quite another thing, however, for the owner of one of the world’s top information centers to do so.

“These social networks are not just companies. It’s not just a business. And it’s our digital community circle. It’s our city,” Stromer-Galley said. “And it feels like the public sector is becoming more and more privatized and owned by these companies – and when the heads of these companies put their finger on the scale – it feels like it could be distorting our democracy. .”in harmful ways.”

Musk’s comments come as he seeks to retool the company and despite widespread concern that recent mass layoffs at the social media platform could leave the company vulnerable to hate speech, misinformation that could affect the safety and security of voters and questionable actors. the official winners of the election. Although Musk has vowed not to let Twitter become a “free-flowing hellscape,” advertisers have abandoned the platform and Musk himself has ramped up misinformation.

It’s no secret that when it comes to tech workers and executives, the political mix tends to lean left, with a good amount of Silicon Valley libertarianism thrown in. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for example, has donated to candidates on both sides of the political spectrum, but in recent years has turned more toward the Democrats. He has never publicly pledged allegiance to any party.

But in their platform decisions and content moderation, technology companies such as Facebook (now Meta), Google and Twitter have taken great pains to appear politically neutral, as they are often criticized – mainly by conservatives but also by liberals – for choosing one. side over the other.

“Now, you can say, look, Rupert Murdoch owns Fox News and his voice is growing,” said Charles Anthony Smith, a professor of political science and law at the University of California at Irvine. “But the difference is that it’s filtered. different writers and different people on the air and all these other things. So it’s not really Rupert Murdoch. It might be people who agree with him on things, but it’s filtered in other words. This is direct communication with nothing mixed in. . So unparalleled amplification.”

Musk’s tweets could also cause problems in world politics outside of the US election. On Sunday, the billionaire showed his willingness to review the retroactive decisions blocking certain accounts by Brazilian lawmakers. The National Electoral Tribunal last week ordered their suspension; they are all supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who on October 30 lost his bid for re-election by a narrow margin, and many have circulated claims of electoral fraud.

Paulo Figueiredo Filho, a political commentator who often defends Bolsonaro on social media and who is the grandson of the last president of the military dictatorship, tweeted that Twitter has become a strict and automatic censor.

“Your current moderators are more dictators than our courts!” Figueiredo wrote.

Musk replied: “I’ll look into it.”

Suspended accounts include that of Nikolas Ferreira, who received more votes in the October race than any other candidate for a seat in the Lower House. According to the orders issued by the electoral authorities, the account of Ferreira and many others was blocked for sharing a live video from an Argentinian digital activist who questioned the reliability of the Brazilian voting system. The video was widely shared by Bolsonaro’s allies, who himself often claimed that the program was fraudulent, without presenting any evidence.

Twitter’s policies, as of Monday, prohibit “manipulation or interference in elections or other public processes.”

In a tweet two days after he agreed to buy Twitter in April, Musk said that in order for “Twitter to be trusted by the public, it must be politically neutral, which means disrupting the right and the left equally.”

And to attract the largest number of potential marketers and users, Big Tech has tried to go down this route, with varying degrees of success. For many years, it has been successful. But the US presidential election of 2016 changed the discourse of the Internet, which led to the rise of politics in the country.

In early 2016, a tech blog quoted an anonymous former Facebook contractor who said the site downplayed news that conservatives were interested in and artificially promoted liberal issues such as the “BlackLivesMatter” hashtag. The blog did not name the person, and no evidence was provided for his claim.

But in the explosive political climate preceding the election of former President Donald Trump, the claim quickly took on a life of its own. There was a lot of media coverage, as well as questions from GOP lawmakers and, later, congressional hearings on the issue. In the years since, as social media companies have begun criticizing far-right accounts and conspiracy theories like QAnon, some observers have seen it as evidence of the platforms’ bias.

Musk himself has at least heeded such claims, and frequently engages with right-wing and far-right figures who would like to see a loosening of Twitter’s misinformation and hate speech policies.

Evidence suggests that those voices are already being heard. In an October study, for example, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that “Twitter gives greater visibility to politically motivated news than it does to content with a liberal bent.”

Musk’s tweet garnered hundreds of thousands of likes and dozens of retweets on Monday, the day before final votes in thousands of races across the country. But in replies and retweets, many famous (and not so famous) Twitter personalities voiced criticism of the Tesla CEO — often mocking him. For Smith, that’s a sign that Musk may not be the billionaire political king that some of his peers, like capitalist Peter Thiel, aspire to be.

“I wonder if we’re dealing with the emergence of a new breed of billionaire, who want to decide what happens and get credit for deciding what happens,” Smith said. they didn’t want anyone to know their names.”

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