Con: Elon Musk’s Purchase of Twitter Harms Free Speech

Jasmine Singh '25, Staff Writer

On Oct. 27, Elon Musk completed his purchase of Twitter for $44 billion, according to CNN. The controversy of former President Donald Trump’s Twitter ban, among many others, instigated criticism of previous censorship on Twitter, but Musk declared his intention to uphold free speech on the platform. Musk’s vision of reduced censorship, however, has already begun to create a hostile environment, and because he has privatized the company, there is no guarantee that he will remain unbiased in his management of free speech.

Private ownership of a social media platform can threaten freedom of speech in several ways. When Twitter was a publicly traded company, SEC regulations required quarterly earning reports to be released to the public for transparency. By taking the company private, Musk now has no obligation to share information about Twitter’s management. Therefore, there is plenty of room for financial incentives to affect free speech on Twitter. Outside pressures such as political views, industry interests or personal motives could easily sway freedom of speech regulations on the platform when information about Twitter’s management is unavailable.

In a Tweet on Oct. 28, Musk announced the creation of a “content moderation council” and declared that no “major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before that council convenes.” In response to a request to reinstate Jordan Peterson, a controversial psychologist who has come under fire for his far-right views, however, Musk tweeted, “anyone suspended for minor & dubious reasons will be freed from Twitter jail” just hours later. This policy announcement shows no matter the promises he makes about sharing moderation control, Musk has the power to take any action he wants.

A similar instance of Musk taking decision-making into his own hands was on Nov. 6, when he suspended comedian Kathy Griffin’s Twitter account after her mocking impersonation of him. Shortly after, he tweeted, “going forward, any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying ‘parody’ will be permanently banned.” This decision shows his total authority over the platform’s policies and lack of impartiality in his approach to censorship.

Furthermore, in a March 5 Tweet, Musk claimed to be a “free speech absolutist,” but his reduction of censorship does not necessarily mean Twitter will become a place where all feel welcome to express themselves. According to a study conducted by Montclair State University, trolls greatly increased hate speech on the platform in response to Musk’s ownership of the app. Musk’s approach to free speech seems to have allowed people to feel freer to be hateful without consequences, and the effect is a more hostile environment for all users. A decrease in censorship will lead to an increase in hate speech, fostering an unsafe space that will reduce users’ willingness to express themselves.

This purchase changes the precedent of ownership of all social media platforms and creates uncertainty in the future of free speech on social media. Twitter, according to The Observer, reaches roughly 450 million monthly active users and has great political influence, so its privatization is a significant and influential change for social media as a whole. This could lead to other billionaires or figures of influence purchasing different platforms, further depriving the public of their rights to free speech.