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Representative imageReuters

Why the caged bird sings

The world’s town square is set to witness loosened content moderation rules, in Musk’s own words, and the incorporation of new technology, and increased transparency in its algorithm.

NEW DELHI: Last month, Elon Musk completed his acquisition of Twitter in a $44 bn deal, which has led to the privatisation of the platform and it being delisted as a public company on the New York Stock Exchange. However, the Tesla boss’s purchase of the microblogging platform has invited more brickbats than bouquets. One of the first things that he did after assuming charge as the Chief Twit (a reference to Musk’s disdain for anything that has to do with managerial titles) was firing the company’s top executives including CEO Parag Agrawal and policy chief Vijaya Gadde. Hinting at his plans to shake things up, Musk planned on putting together a content moderation council, while maintaining that he would not be immediately onboarding users who have been banned by the platform.

Twitter has been hailed as a medium to not only express dissent and call out authority figures, but it has also helped fuel a social revolution of sorts. The portal gave a voice to the marginalised and to those whose narratives were clouded out by the din of populism. However, now that the portal is owned by the richest man in the world, questions have been raised on whether absolute power will indeed corrupt absolutely. As Musk describes himself as a free speech absolutist, there are fears that probably nothing will be off-limits henceforth, as far as free, unregulated speech on Twitter is concerned. Following the announcement of the takeover, the number of followers of several right wing Twitter accounts surged. Former US President Donald Trump, who was kicked off the platform for his incendiary comments, leading up to the January 6 assault on Capitol Hill, went on record to say that he was glad that Twitter was in sane hands now.

The world’s town square is set to witness loosened content moderation rules, in Musk’s own words, and the incorporation of new technology, and increased transparency in its algorithm. Musk plans to emulate the business model popular in Asian nations by turning Twitter into a super app, combining social media, payments and messaging into one single service. And monetisation is a concern as the platform with over 240 mn daily access users is yet to turn profitable. The company has been posting losses in eight out of the last 10 years, and a market value that trails behind TikTok, and Meta-owned Facebook and Instagram.

Twitter, like most social media platforms, is prone to dissemination of disinformation, hate speech, trolling, sexism, and even calls for violence. For Indian users, the implication is multi-pronged. The Centre recently amended rules introduced last year to get social media platforms to own up on content moderation. As per the new rules, it’s not sufficient that such platforms only advise users to follow guidelines, but help prevent transmission of fake/misleading information.

India’s IT Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar also said the country’s rules for intermediaries remain the same, regardless of who owns the platform. It’s pertinent as the Centre had asked Twitter to act tough on accounts critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic some time back. Twitter, on its end, had in July asked a court to overturn a few government orders directing it to remove content from the platform. There are no easy answers to the question regarding the direction in which Twitter is headed from here. Musk will have to shoulder the burden of championing free speech — responsibly at that, while ensuring that his stakeholders have no reason to fly away.

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