(NEW YORK) — While Democrats raise alarms and Republicans celebrate Twitter’s announcement Monday that Elon Musk was buying the platform for $44 billion, experts weigh what political impact the world’s richest man will have on the social media giant and whether his private ownership once the sale completes later this year could include clearing the way for Donald Trump’s return.
Some Democrats are already painting a dire picture of the platform’s future, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., calling the sale “dangerous for our democracy,” while Republicans have declared it a victory for “free speech” — with Musk having described himself as a “free speech absolutist.”
The Tesla and SpaceX entrepreneur has long been critical of how Twitter manages its content, pushing for looser moderation, and Republicans have blasted the platform for booting former President Donald Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, arguing it’s become too heavy-handed against conservatives voices.
“This is a great day to be conservative on Twitter,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., tweeted Monday. “Elon Musk buying Twitter terrifies the left because they don’t want their power to censor conservatives threatened,” she added.
Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., also touted the news, tweeting, “Elon Musk now literally owns the libs,” and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, tweeted, “Free speech is making a comeback.”
Since Musk announced his proposal to buy Twitter via a tweet just 11 days ago, Republicans have largely rallied behind him. He told a TED conference one day after submitting his bid that his takeover plan is about free speech.
“If in doubt, let the speech exist,” he said. “If it’s a gray area, I would say, let the tweet exist. But obviously, in the case where there’s perhaps a lot of controversy, you would not necessarily want to promote that tweet.”
Musk has argued that Twitter’s content moderators intervene too much on the platform, calling it the internet’s “de facto town square.”
“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” Musk said in a release announcing the deal Monday. “I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans.”
“Twitter has tremendous potential — I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it,” he added.
But experts warn against what the social media giant’s landscape would look like without current misinformation policies in place and if all users who have been kicked off were allowed back on — while voices to fact check them might leave the site in defiance.
Angelo Carusone, president of watchdog media nonprofit Media Matters, said to expect to see Trump’s account to be restored along with a host of other accounts that had previously violated Twitter’s rules.
“Elon Musk will unwind a whole range of very basic protections against harassment, abuse, and disinformation that Twitter has spent years putting into practice — effectively opening the floodgates of hate and lies and using Twitter’s position as a market leader to pressure other social media companies to backslide,” Carusone said in a statement Monday.
“The race to the bottom begins,” he added.
The American Civil Liberties Union raised concerns similar to Warren — with one person, Musk, in this case, also the world’s richest man, obtaining “so much control over the boundaries of our political speech online.”
Musk hasn’t said whether he will allow banned users back on, and Tump has claimed that even if he’s reinstated, he intends to stay off the platform in favor of his own platform.
“I am not going on Twitter, I am going to stay on TRUTH,” Trump told Fox News Monday. “I hope Elon buys Twitter because he’ll make improvements to it and he is a good man, but I am going to be staying on TRUTH.”
Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose personal Twitter account was permanently suspended in January for “repeated violations” of Twitter’s COVID misinformation policy, reactedto the sale from her government account, saying Twitter violated her freedom of speech “along with an unknown number of Americans.”
“I want everyone else to have theirs back too, if they choose it,” she said.
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