The day after the announcement of the takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk, Monday, April 25, the political divide is clear in the face of the will displayed by the billionaire to make the social network “an open arena for freedom of expression” by relaxing its moderation rules. Unsurprisingly, the announcement delighted the American conservative right, which regularly criticizes Silicon Valley companies for favoring the Democrats. Republican Senator Jim Jordanfor example, hailed “the return of freedom of expression” on the platform, while Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburnknown for her conservative positions, said it was a “great day to be conservative on Twitter” and that he was “time for Twitter to become what it was supposed to be: a digital platform open to all opinions”.
In France too, some are delighted with the event, particularly on the far right. “The takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk: very good news for freedom of expression! Stop censorship, we’re suffocating! Long live freedom ! », for example wrote Florian Philippotpresident of the Patriots and former right-hand man of Marine Le Pen.
On the opposite side of the political spectrum, however, we are concerned about this cult of absolute freedom of expression defended by the new boss of Twitter, contrary to the efforts made for several years by the platform to improve moderation. hateful content. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren immediately warned of a “dangerous agreement for our democracy”. In the European Union, the commissioner responsible for the internal market, Thierry Breton, warned that the social network “should fully adapt to European rules”while the Secretary of State in charge of the digital transition in France, Cédric O, wanted to remind that “the Digital Services Act – and therefore the obligation to combat misinformation, online hate, etc. – applies[rait] whatever the ideology from the owner of Twitter.
If the capture of the blue bird by Elon Musk provokes such contrasting reactions, it is because the boss of SpaceX and Tesla has demonstrated in the past that he has a very personal conception of freedom of expression: resenting criticism, his desire to silence dissenting voices has sometimes shown itself in the most childish way.
In July 2018, he qualified without any reason for “pedophile” a Briton who helped rescue children trapped in a cave in Thailand. The only fault of the person concerned: having qualified of “marketing stunt” the offer made by Elon Musk to contribute to the operation by lending a midget submarine. The same year, dissatisfied with the critical financial analyzes about Tesla that a blogger posted on the Internet, Mr. Musk himself picked up his phone to complain directly to the company that employed the Internet user. Two years earlier, it was another blogger who bore the brunt of the businessman’s wrath: because he had published a harsh criticism online of an event organized by Tesla, the latter had seen his order purely and simply cancelled.
To these episodes, which illustrate the ego dimension of the personality of Elon Musk, are added several events showing that the billionaire has little taste for counter-powers. Starting with the unions, towards which he has never hidden his hostility. “Why pay union dues and give up stock options for nothing? “, he tweeted one day, while at the same time a Tesla employee who was trying to set up a union was fired.
Censorship with variable geometry
Elon Musk also had a more than stormy relationship with the media, whose coverage of his car company displeased him. On his Twitter account, in 2018, he did not hesitate to multiply very hostile messages against a journalist from Business Insider, who had investigated Tesla, while media like Reuters or CNBC were the subject of his public anger. Still on his Twitter account, Mr. Musk detailed his distrust and disapproval of traditional media at length, even toying with the idea of creating a rating service for media and journalists. The original plan was to call this structure “Pravda”, after the official newspaper of the Communist Party during the Soviet Union. Elon Musk being hugely followed by a crowd of adoring fans, each of his criticisms was amplified and multiplied, causing significant waves of harassment specifically aimed at women journalists, many of whom now self-censor when it comes to covering Tesla. or Elon Musk.
The culture of freedom of expression like Musk also seems to know how to cohabit with a certain dose of the censorship that it nevertheless claims to fight, since it serves the interests of its companies. In 2021, according to the Bloomberg press agency, his company Tesla did not hesitate to approach the Chinese authorities in order to complain about the attacks, which it considers unjustified, of which it was the subject on the country’s social networks, asking that Beijing is interceding on his behalf and blocking some of these messages. China is indeed the second market, after the United States, for the manufacturer of electric cars.
Combined with his gritty jokes and his very politically marked positions, whether on the subject of an alleged “woke virus” or the Covid-19 pandemic – of which he described the panic resulting from ” stupid “ –, this mosaic of elements explains why the arrival of Elon Musk at the head of Twitter is not unanimous. Except, perhaps, on the many Telegram channels of the “complosphere”, where we celebrate a man who “set to restore freedom of expression to millions of people”commenting on the news with these words: “Good news: We will be able to return to Twitter. »