As soon as he arrived, Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter, imposed his style: authoritarian. He dissolves the board of directors, dismisses the managers and lays off half of the company’s employees. This mass dismissal could (almost) remain trivial if we did not look at the details of the functions of the people dismissed: several critical departments for our democracies have been eliminated or greatly reduced.
The human rights team has been abolished entirely. Its main mission was to protect users who are victims of human rights violations all over the world, such as activists, journalists or even individuals threatened in the context of a war, in particular the Russian war in Ukraine. The team in charge of programming, which carried out content moderation missions in terms of disinformation, was entirely dismissed. The team responsible for public affairs, including elections and auditing the accounts of public figures, has been reduced by half.
A liberated bird
Then, that the bird is “freed” could make us happy, but Elon Musk’s conception of freedom of expression seems to include racist, anti-Semitic insults, death threats or even lies that generate large-scale information manipulation and ruin our democracies. If the moderation of hate content was already insufficient before the arrival of Musk, the dynamic launched by the businessman risks ruining the meager progress made in recent years in favor of laissez-faire. In fact, we can already see the return of many extremist accounts on the platform, since a few days before the midterm elections in the United States.
Finally, it seems that the decision to grant the blue badge will now be made without verification of the quality of the person, even though the certification was precisely intended to differentiate fake accounts from official accounts of public figures. Anyone who pays 8 dollars (7.70 €) for a monthly subscription will be entitled to it, de facto putting an end to the “certification” function in favor of a public debate giving a bonus of visibility and legitimacy on the sole basis of ability to pay.
The social networks we want
The threats posed by the takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk are added to the already known limits of the dominant social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.): use of personal data for advertising purposes, algorithmic confinement which leads to radicalization opinions and public debate, anonymity that promotes hate speech and cyberbullying, etc.
The takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk gives rise to a momentum to regain power on our social networks, in Europe. Want platforms without cyberbullying, without hate speech, without manipulation of information on a large scale, pluralistic platforms on which everyone is truly free to express one’s opinions with respect for others: this is not (just) a dream.
First, this momentum is an opportunity to forcefully remind that European regulations – GDPR, but also Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA) – are essential on European soil, thus protecting European users. against abuse of all kinds: misinformation, harassment, etc. Thierry Breton, the European commissioner in charge of the interior market, rightly reminded Elon Musk: the blue bird will fly according to European rules.
Elon Musk is forced to comply, under penalty of a fine of up to 6% of the company’s annual turnover. In the event of a repeat offence, the sanctions can go as far as the suspension of Twitter in Europe, temporarily or permanently in the worst case. This is probably not a desirable option, but it is a possible option if Elon Musk does not comply with European rules: the ball is in his court.
This momentum can also be an opportunity to explore new models of social networks. European alternatives to Twitter already exist: Mastodon, for example, is the biggest player in the Twitter niche and is gaining ground. He’s not perfect. Because it is run by volunteer developers, the user experience there is degraded, but improves as the number of users increases. Concerns also weigh on the confidentiality of the data: due to the decentralized management of the network, they are open source, but in return cannot be hacked.
It seems all the same that benevolence reigns there between users… a word that we had forgotten on Twitter. Beyond the example of Mastodon, we are calling for the emergence of new, innovative platform models that are more respectful of our values, our rights and personal data. European regulator, digital entrepreneurs, developers and investors, we are counting on you!