Billionaire Elon Musk’s X, formerly known as Twitter, may be on the cusp of reverting to the censorship that occurred before he took over the company in October 2022, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Musk has repeatedly promoted free speech and has taken some significant strides toward reducing speech restrictions on the platform, but the company has also taken actions that have advanced censorship, experts told the DCNF.
While Musk’s X has unbanned many accounts and released “The Twitter Files,” exposing censorship before his takeover, the platform also appears to be planning to suppress certain election information and other content.
“Musk hasn’t lived up to his stated commitment to free speech,” Aaron Terr, director of public advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression told the DCNF. “If he truly wants to make it a haven for free speech, he needs to take a hard look at the platform’s content moderation policies and practices.”
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X recently updated its Civic Integrity Policy, which empowers the platform to “label or remove false or misleading information about how to participate in an election or other civic process.”
Before Musk took over, X censored an authenticated story by the New York Post about President Joe Biden’s son Hunter’s laptop in the month before the 2020 election, a decision that former executives now regret.
“As we head into another critical election cycle, conservatives will need to make their voices heard and demand that legitimate political, religious, and cultural speech remains protected on the X platform,” Director of Policy for American Principles Project Jon Schweppe told the DCNF.
Certain employees at X “think they should be able to censor conservatives’ political speech during an election,” Mike Davis, president and founder of the Internet Accountability Project, told the DCNF. “This looks like just another attempt by officials at big tech companies to put their finger on the scales for Democrats in a national election.”
The updated election policy adheres to X’s “freedom of speech, not reach” enforcement doctrine, which allows individuals to post what they desire, but suppresses content that breaks the platform’s rules so users will likely not be exposed to the posts.
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“It’s a very silly policy, and I think it’s about just as harmful as de-platforming, but it just seems a little more friendly and tolerant,” Jake Denton, a research associate at the Heritage Foundation’s Tech Policy Center, told the DCNF.
Furthermore, X is hiring specialists to shield users from “disinformation” on the platform, according to a now-deleted job description posted on Aug. 11.
“Twitter 2.0 (X) is obviously an improvement over what it was a year ago, but it’s still concerning that management seems to think the platform has a responsibility to combat ‘disinformation’ by engaging in censorship,” Schweppe told the DCNF.
“Those positions that they’re hiring for will be given broad authority to interpret each individual case and decide whether it falls within their guidelines,” Denton told the DCNF. “And so what you’re going to end up with here is essentially the same type of Silicon Valley Tech bros deciding who gets to stay on the platform and who gets de-platformed.”
X says it wants to support political dialogue that is “accurate and safe,” which raises red flags, Mike Benz, executive director of the Foundation for Freedom Online, told the DCNF.
These words “are classic bastions of the censorship regime of Twitter 1.0,” he said. “The promise of Elon Musk’s new ownership was that people would decide what information is accurate — not speech police employed by the platform.”
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“This seems like a patent attempt to launder in a fake ‘safety’ smokescreen to bring back policies long-hated by users, but long-demanded by advertiser boycott groups,” Benz added.
While these updated and expanded policies and job offers seem to indicate the upward trajectory of X’s censorship, it is unclear how far it will go, experts told the DCNF.
“The most insidious aspects of all of this won’t be known for several months,” Benz told the DCNF. “Twitter 2.0 is putting the pieces in place for a potentially monstrous censorship regime ahead of 2024 — similar bad-looking policies, similar bad-looking personnel as 2020. So the infrastructure is in place for the worst case scenario to manifest itself months from now.”
The increased censorship on X is likely attributable to Musk appointing Linda Yaccarino as the new CEO to retrieve advertisers, Benz told the DCNF. Advertisers fled the company since Musk’s takeover and implementation of free speech, leading to a roughly 50% plummet in revenue, the billionaire posted in July.
“[Musk] needs blue-chip advertiser blocs to come back to Twitter, and such censorship provisions are the quid pro quo for doing so,” Benz stated. “Frankly, organizing that quid pro quo with advertisers seems like the dominant reason Musk chose Linda Yaccarino — the former head of advertising partnerships for the World Economic Forum — as his new CEO.”
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“Since the arrival of Linda, it seems as though we’re slow-walking back into the old censorship regime,” Denton told the DCNF. “I think you can attribute a lot of that to the prioritization of bringing advertisers back to the platform, which is valid. They need to make money.”
“If they’re putting the advertisers ahead of the people already, it’s a bad sign,” he added. “The path pattern is essentially mirroring what unfolded on the last version of Twitter. It’s pretty hard to correct course, once you embark down this path.”
Advertiser boycotts and the possibility of tech giants suppressing the platform are major threats to X, Davis told the DCNF. “Google, Apple and Amazon could crush X in an instant, like they did to Parler,” Davis said. “And the advertiser boycotters, with their demands for political censorship, appear to be winning right now.”
However, “Musk has also done things to expand expressive freedom on X, such as reinstating accounts banned for the views they expressed,” Terr told the DCNF.
The X owner restored many suspended accounts after taking over the platform, including former President Donald Trump, clinical psychiatrist Dr. Jordan B. Peterson and satirical outlet Babylon Bee, according to CBS News.
Furthermore, Musk’s “release of the Twitter Files was useful in exposing how previous management limited public discourse on the platform and, in particular, how the government pressured Twitter to censor constitutionally protected speech,” Terr told the DCNF.
Musk has released numerous batches of “Twitter Files,” which are internal company documents revealing censorship, including emails related to the decision by X to suppress the Hunter Biden laptop story in 2020.
“Elon Musk is a benevolent billionaire, who restored free speech online,” Davis told the DCNF.
X did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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