After months of trying to back out from a deal to buy Twitter, Elon Musk is officially moving forward with the acquisition. It's still unclear what direction the company could head under his leadership - but some experts are concerned it could lead to increased unsavory content.
Those worries stem from Musk's comments on how speech should be moderated with a light touch on social media. Musk tried to allay those concerns in a Tweet, saying: "Twitter cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences." But reports also indicate that Musk may cut Twitter's staffing by up to 75%, which experts say will likely have a large impact on moderating harmful content.
"I think there's a very realistic danger of the incremental progress that Twitter has made in civilizing the site being rolled back, if Elon Musk comes in and is running the place day to day," said New York University Deputy Director of the Stern Center for Business and Human Rights Paul Barrett. "I think you would end up seeing it move toward an environment like Parler or Gab, where the worst of internet discourse comes to predominate."
Musk has also said that he would reinstate former president Donald Trump's Twitter account, which was banned for repeatedly pushing the false narrative that the election was illegitimately won by Joe Biden, and posing "a risk of further incitement of violence." In recent weeks, Trump has used his Truth Social platform to routinely push election misinformation. Civil society experts are also concerned that Trump’s acceptance back to Twitter could create a chain effect where he gets back on Facebook and other platforms.
"A lot of the major social media companies will follow what others are doing. And certainly with Trump, we saw his being banned [as] sort of a domino effect. When he was banned on one platform, the other companies followed in succession," Free Press Director of Civil Rights and Digital Justice Nora Benavidez said. "His coming back on any of these platforms signals that there will be a surge in that hate and toxicity yet again. It doesn't matter if it's one or all of them."
There are also concerns around Musk's cryptic proposal to "authenticate all real human users," which could require individuals to attach their real names to accounts. Experts told Newsy that could lead to real-world harm.
"There are authoritarian regimes. There are cases where people don't want to maybe talk about their sexual orientation or political beliefs to their family members. Authenticating everyone and saying that old-fashioned sort of a thing as having everything out in the open - I think those things have been shown not to work," Michigan State University Omura-Saxena Professor of Responsible AI Anjana Susarla said.