After the takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk, the richest man on the planet, many users left the social network. Some stars in the United States leave with a goodbye tweet. “I don’t plan on hanging around here to see what Elon has planned. Goodbye”, writes Shonda Rhimes who created the Grey’s Anatomy series. Some have not yet taken the plunge but are expressing doubts, even here in France like government spokesman Olivier Véran.
For Christophe also the question arises whether to stay or not. “The attitude of the new owner shocks us a little”explains this teacher who uses Twitter with his CM2 class for various spelling or media education exercises. “It’s a bit far from the values of the school. For us, freedom of expression is in respect for the law and it is not having the right to say everything.” In the meantime, Christophe has created an account on the social network Mastodon, a platform without advertising, decentralized on different servers, different bodies each responsible for moderating content. It is still a relatively confidential network, not very easy to use. But who gained 230,000 users in a single week after Elon Musk took over Twitter.
A regulated freedom of expression in Europe
Elon Musk is a fervent defender of freedom of expression within the meaning of the first amendment of the American Constitution which prohibits in Congress any freedom of speech. It could relax the moderation rules of the social network, which would imply that hateful content is not deleted. But in Europe, there is the regulation of the “Digital Services Act” (DSA) which obliges platforms to remove certain content. Twitter must comply. Elon Musk “not going to cut Twitter for Europe”underlines Gilles Babinet.
But we can expect difficult phases. “When he lays off half of the staff, you realize that the moderation teams are particularly affected. Twitter is not a company that produces cars. It’s something to do with democracy. The subject of content as such does not only concern Twitter”insists the co-president of the National Digital Council.
Can we fear misinformation?
Concern is also aroused around certifications, these small blue badges next to the pseudonym, supposed to authenticate the author of the tweets. Elon Musk wanted to make it paid: 8 dollars per month, also allowing access to certain features. He finally backtracked by proposing a distinction, the mention “official”, between the accounts already authenticated and the future new subscribers of this formula.
Can we then fear stronger attempts at disinformation? Not necessarily according to Fabrice Epelboin. “I have this famous blue dot. There was no verification of my identity in the same way as at the bank. Despite everything, it created a form of aristocracy on Twitter and unconsciously people said that the messages issued by certified accounts had the value of truth. Which is an invention”believes this teacher and entrepreneur specializing in social networks.
A primarily financial issue
By charging for certification, Elon Musk intends above all to cover his costs. He bought this unprofitable social network for the sum of 44 billion euros and has to deal with the flight of certain advertisers from the social network. “Advertising revenues do not bring in enough money per individual to ensure adequate moderation. So Twitter, like all social networks, is condemned if it wants to comply with current requirements, to find an economic model. The solution of Elon Musk is to charge users for a premium version”, analyzes Fabrice Epelboin. A strategy that also led to the brutal dismissal of half of the 7,500 employees of the social network.
The issue is therefore not so much financial but above all political. Twitter is a great tool for gaining influence. The billionaire had claimed at the time of the purchase to “liberate the blue bird”, emblem of the social network and to create a free public place to express all opinions. Serge Abiteboul takes him literally and encourages him to give greater access to the data and source code of the social network. “Users could give minimum things about what kind of moderation they want, also about recommendations”details the computer science researcher at the National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology.
“The world we will live in 20 or 30 years from now will be shaped by what happens on social media”
For the author of “We are the social networks” (ed. Odile Jacob) with Jean Cattan, we must reclaim Twitter. “The world we will live in 20 or 30 years from now will be shaped by what happens on social networks. All of society must take hold of this subject. And it cannot be a few business leaders who will decide in which world we will live in 20 years, or governments. We believe with Jean Cattan that it is up to all of society to take charge and solve this problem”he explains.
The issue becomes democratic when we know the influence of social networks in the various electoral campaigns in the world and our societies. It is on Twitter that hashtags such as Black Lives Matter or Me Too were born, which have had a lasting impact on our society.