Elon Musk's surprise bid to buy Twitter has sparked a wave of angst on the platform, with many users and observers expressing concern that the ultra-liberal entrepreneur will take control of the bluebird.
“'If Elon Musk gets Twitter back, I'm leaving the network' has become the new 'If Trump wins, I'm leaving for Canada'”, summed up Carol Roth, entrepreneur and author of an essay on SMEs.
The boss of Tesla and the richest man in the world wants to acquire Twitter to make it, according to him, a bastion of freedom of expression.
He believes that content moderation goes too far and that fewer limits should be placed on users, in the name of democracy.
"Twitter has become, in fact, the public square. So it's really important that people have the impression and the ability to speak freely within the limits of the law", argued Elon Musk during a conference Thursday.
He did not comment on the emblematic case of former US President Donald Trump, who was banned from mainstream platforms in January 2021 for inciting his followers to violence, after several warnings, withdrawn messages, and the invasion of the Capitol which caused several deaths.
"I think we should just be very reluctant to remove things and very careful with permanent bans. They should be temporary instead," the businessman said.
This approach enchants the American conservative right and beyond. Elon Musk's interest in Twitter is "the best news for freedom of expression in years", enthused Nigel Farage, one of the British leaders of the campaign in favor of Brexit.
But for many human rights defenders and elected Democrats, Twitter, like Facebook or YouTube, should on the contrary better curb disinformation, conspiracy theories, intolerance, and hatred.
“Elon Musk himself used Twitter and other platforms to attack and silence other people. He spread misinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines. He used Twitter to manipulate people. markets and increase his already considerable fortune", reacted Jessica Gonzalez, co-director of the NGO Free Press, in a press release.
"Social media users should not be subjected to the whims of bombastic billionaires who are detached from reality," she added.
This desire to less moderate exchanges that are already often uncivil also worries employees of the Californian group, according to several press articles.
Especially since Tesla is not only known for its success and its profits: the factory in Fremont, in Silicon Valley, is the subject of complaints for cases of harassment and for systemic racial discrimination.
Privatize the public square
"Millions of people, including journalists, artists, and activists depend on this platform to do their work," said Evan Greer, director of the NGO Fight for the Future, which defends digital rights, including freedom of speech. 'expression.
"The fact that we're worried about someone like Elon Musk buying it out shows we have a fundamental problem: too few companies with too much power."
The financial operation indeed raises questions about the power accumulated by the big tech companies.
Many American elected officials on both sides have been calling for years to better regulate the platforms, in particular, to ensure more competition, without agreeing on the solutions.
"A single person who owns the whole company is perfect for 'liberating people from the centralized state and from capitalist control'", quipped media specialist Parker Molloy.
"It's the other way around. Twitter should be decentralized," said Fred Wilson, an investor.
Elon Musk wants to make the platform a private company, which would no longer be listed on the stock exchange, and would therefore escape even more from any external control.
The contradiction between his stated intentions and his method has not escaped some experts.
"I'm going to buy the public square and privatize it to save it! Try saying that out loud. It's nonsense," remarked Renee DiResta, a researcher at the Stanford Internet Observatory.