Social networks: How far is freedom? The Twitter thing

Twitter was bought by Elon Musk, the compulsive entrepreneur who created Paypal (online payment), then Tesla (electric cars) and finally SpaceX (rockets), for an “obscene” sum of $44 billion. It is inappropriate, not only because it is abnormally high in terms of the company’s bottom line, but also because this takeover demonstrates the almost limitless possibilities of a few people in the world.

The main problem created by this acquisition is the relationship of freedom, truth, intimacy, not growing and new. Today, Twitter has 340 Million users, which is only a fraction of Meta users (Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp). But, on the one hand, Meta, like Youtube (Google), has stricter moderation policies that are not perfect, and on the other hand, these other social networks are less connected to traditional media. Note that Twitter has become an important means of communication and influence for politicians and personalities. Journalists take their sources unchecked… and often unchecked.

The most surprising innovation is Elon Musk’s desire to drastically limit moderation, whether it pertains to hate, offensive content, or “fake news.” There is no fake news for him. The truth does not exist. If someone says the earth is flat, that’s their right. There will be enough people trying to explain and prove otherwise. Twitter is becoming a libertarian tool according to the wishes of its new owner.

We can also imagine that the power will be transferred to advertisers or “partners”, mainly from advertising revenues. The fight began when Apple threatened to pull both Twitter advertising and the Twitter app from the Appstore, which would make Twitter unusable on iPhones and likely bankrupt the company. We can also think that the person who will really have the power will be Elon Musk himself, who, according to his beliefs, will ban or change the visibility of such and such a transmitter or such and such content. He also began by drawing back some journalists who decided to publish their travels and therefore their accommodation.

Is it an asset or a hindrance to democracy? Referring to the Arab Spring, many commentators applaud the positive role that social networks played in this effort for people’s freedom. If we refer to the attack on the Capitol, we cannot claim that these networks are always in the service of democracy. We can also think that this expressiveness strengthens the opposition to the ballot boxes, that the citizen considers himself more active not by anonymous voting, but by Tweets read by thousands of people. We can also think that Twitter has become a democratic tool in itself when we see Elon Musk testing his legitimacy there and getting 17 million votes in a few days…those who want him gone!

Is it an asset or a hindrance to human development? Twitter is clearly a channel of access to information and knowledge specific to man and his development. It is also a channel for the dissemination of news, good or bad, true or false, with associated manipulation possibilities through popular algorithms. It is also a human communication tool. But what often colors this communication with hatred, insults, hate, violence.

These questions have already been raised at the time of the birth of print media, radio or television. At each stage, reading, listening, seeing, passed a level. A new step occurs with interactivity. We are far from a “reader’s mail” that allows a few subscribers to express themselves in daily or weekly newspapers. We already knew that this is often the first section that readers look at. Today, everyone tweets president tweets, pope tweets, pundits tweet, sir or madam. Two ethical problems arise:

  • on the one hand, general relativity, everything is equal, everyone has their own truth, no difference
  • on the other hand, the inability to regulate the spread of violence

States are trying to provide answers, such as the European Union and its Digital Services Act, but won’t they always fall behind in the face of apolitical technology? Providers build their own tools, but doesn’t that give them more power?

Do we have any choice but education, which will take a generation at best before it takes effect? What will happen in the meantime?

Twitter doesn’t create hate and disgust per se, it mostly gives them a new echo and playground. We can fix a symptom that we want to adjust and moderate, but the essence of the matter will remain unchanged. Can you condemn the messenger without trying to understand the message?

Thierry Sergeant

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *