Musk buying Twitter alarms Democrats
Elon Musk’s deal to buy Twitter for $44 billion and take the company private is stirring alarm among Democrats who are worried former President Trump will return to his onetime favorite social media platform and spread disinformation.
Musk has complained that Twitter’s moderators have gone too far in regulating speech on the platform, which he calls “the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”
Musk, who is the CEO of Tesla and the world’s richest person, said in a statement that he wants to “make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features,” such as “defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans.”
The news rankled Democrats, who fear there will be fewer restrictions on disinformation and incendiary speech, which former President Obama warned about at a speech this month at Stanford University.
“Musk purchasing Twitter is dangerous for our democracy. It is a reminder why we need a wealth tax and why we need some serious regulation for Big Tech. One billionaire should not be able to turn the world upside down just because he plays by a different set of rules,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who believes the government should break up Big Tech companies to promote more competition.
Asked whether Musk’s acquisition of Twitter was cause for concern, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said: “Absolutely it does.”
“He said he wants to make it this global message board. My first question to him, ‘Is your message board going to include Donald Trump?’ ” he said. “That’s a key question. If he lets that man rant and rave on Twitter, not in the best interests of America’s’ future.”
Durbin, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, noted that his and other panels are exploring whether it would be appropriate to impose new regulations on Big Tech companies to incentivize them to do more to moderate content.
Speaking at Stanford last week, Obama said tech firms “need to be more transparent about how they operate” and crack down on “lies and conspiracy theories” that threaten the nation’s democratic system.
“Without some standards, implications of this technology — for our elections, for our legal system, for our democracy, for rules of evidence, for our entire social order — are frightening and profound,” he warned.
Musk hasn’t said whether he’ll let Trump, who was permanently barred from Twitter in January 2021, back on the platform, but his recent comments have fueled speculation that he might do so. Trump has indicated he’s not interested in getting back on Twitter, though he is known for changing his mind.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he also had concerns about what Musk’s purchase of Twitter might mean for the platform’s content standards.
He said he was looking into the matter but declined to provide any detail.
“I’ve got some concerns. I think it will have to go through … some level of appropriate regulatory [review], and I’m doing some of my own checking,” he said.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said Musk’s control over a major forum for political debate is alarming.
“It’s always a concern when an oligarch may be owning the town square. I think we do need to pay a lot of attention to how it’s managed,” he said.
Musk’s takeover of Twitter raises questions about what it means for his settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission over fraud charges stemming from his August 2018 tweet that he had secured funding to take Tesla private at $420 per share, which pushed the car company’s stock higher.
Under the settlement, Musk must allow a Tesla lawyer to review any tweets containing material business information before hitting the send button.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the chairwoman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, said allowing Trump back on Twitter would be a major problem.
“I think that’s very problematic,” she said of Trump’s possible return. “I don’t think that somebody who encouraged and organized a violent insurrection to take over our government should be allowed on Twitter.”
Asked about the loosening of content standards, she said she “would certainly have concerns” but added she hadn’t looked at the deal closely enough to “get into a big analysis.”
Trump, who has launched a social media venture that includes a platform intended to vie with Twitter, told Fox News on Monday that he doesn’t plan to return to Twitter.
“I am not going on Twitter, I am going to stay on Truth,” he said, referring to his Truth Social messaging platform, before the deal was announced. “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. The bottom line is, no, I am not going back to Twitter.”
Twitter permanently suspended Trump because of what it called “the risk of further incitement of violence” after a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to halt the certification of President Biden’s victory.
Twitter later unveiled a civic integrity policy that prohibited the use of its services for the purpose of manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes. It also reserved the right to flag or reduce the visibility of tweets containing false or misleading information about civic processes.
At a TED conference this month, Musk stressed the importance of allowing free speech on Twitter.
“Twitter has become kind of the de facto town square, so it’s just really important that people have both the reality and the perception that they are able to speak freely within the bounds of the law,” he said.
Conservatives on Monday applauded Musk’s move.
“Elon Musk did his part for free speech today. Let’s hope the Supreme Court does as well,” former Rep. Mark Walker (N.C.), a conservative Republican running for Senate, tweeted Monday afternoon.
Democrats are worried what that means for policing claims that Biden stole the 2020 presidential election or misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.
“I’m a big free speech guy, but this stuff isn’t working. It’s terrorizing democracy, and from that perspective I think it’s bad for Democrats in this sense: These Republican alt groups tend to dominate. They tend to have much more of a footprint on these social media platforms than Democrats do,” said Steve Jarding, a Democratic strategist and former senior adviser to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Jarding is also the communications director for a new social media platform called Pixstory, which has a business model designed to root out hate and misinformation by giving integrity scores to people who post on the site.
But Jarding called it “a horrible problem” that the world’s richest person is taking over a major means of political discourse at a time when Democrats are discussing proposals to tax the unrealized capital gains of multibillionaires such as Musk to pay for proposals to fight climate change and economic inequality.
“He could turn it into anything that he wants. He controls literally hundreds of millions of hits, if you will, or clicks on a platform that he can determine whether it’s used in a good way or a bad way, and that’s too much concentration with one individual,” Jarding added.
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