Elon Musk’s Twitter deal stirs free speech, disinformation debate

A number of far-right organisations are celebrating Elon Musk's purchase of Twitter.

Posting on Telegram, controversial individuals and groups including Tommy Robinson and Britain First have expressed excitement about the future of the social media platform, which they have been banned from, after it was reported that the billionaire had purchased it for $44bn, with plans to extend its commitment to "free speech".

Britain First shared a link to a story about the deal with the caption: "It’s official. Elon Musk owns Twitter. Free speech is back!"

In an email sent to supporters and seen by indy100 they added that they had made a new Twitter account in response to the news, however the account has since been suspended. They wrote:

"Twitter has been purchased outright by free speech fanatic Elon Musk.

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"Musk has promised to transform Twitter into a genuine free speech platform where all voices will be heard.

"In response to this news, Britain First has re-opened an official account on Twitter. Left-wing bigots and fascists are having a cry-baby meltdown on Twitter due to Musk's takeover.

"We urge all of our supporters to follow our new account without delay."

Meanwhile, Tommy Robinson also shared one of Musk's tweets about the deal with one of his supporters commenting "if he manages to take over I might have to rejoin," and another saying "we better get accounts back now".

It comes after people have expressed concern about how Musk's ownership of Twitter will change its ethos and rules on what content can and cannot be posted. Twitter has rules which see users suspended or banned for posting content deemed as "hateful" including banning the use of "hateful images or symbols".

"We are committed to combating abuse motivated by hatred, prejudice or intolerance, particularly abuse that seeks to silence the voices of those who have been historically marginalised," their website says. "For this reason, we prohibit behavior that targets individuals or groups with abuse based on their perceived membership in a protected category."

But Musk has spoken out in favour of free speech, so some people are suggesting these policies could be changed. “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” Musk said in a statement posted to... Twitter. “Twitter has tremendous potential – I look forward to working with the company and users to unlock it,” he added.

Amnesty International said in a statement: “Regardless of ownership, Twitter has a responsibility to protect human rights, including the rights to live free from discrimination and violence and to freedom of expression and opinion – a responsibility that they already too often fail.

“We are concerned with any steps that Twitter might take to erode enforcement of the policies and mechanisms designed to protect users. The last thing we need is a Twitter that willfully turns a blind eye to violent and abusive speech against users, particularly those most disproportionately impacted, including women, non-binary persons, and others.”

To say the groups celebrating Musk's deal are controversial would be an understatement, so it is not surprising they have previously been banned from the platform. Britain First leader Paul Golding, who has campaigned against immigration and served a prison sentence for racially aggravated harassment in 2018, was suspended from Twitter in 2017 after the platform revised its rules on hate speech.

And Tommy Robinson, who has been convicted in the UK for fraud, stalking, assault, using someone else’s passport, using threatening behaviour, and contempt of court, was banned in 2018 for reportedly breaking Twitter’s rules governing “hateful conduct”.

Joe Mulhall, director of research at anti-racist campaign group HOPE not hate told indy100:

"The news that Elon Musk’s bid to buy Twitter has been successful led to a flurry of excitement from the international far right. In the UK, long banned far right figures such as Tommy Robinson and groups like Britain First prematurely set up new accounts in anticipation of Musk’s ‘free speech absolutist’ platform.

“While we don’t yet know what Elon Musk’s Twitter will look like, it is worrying to see the far right celebrating, and has naturally created a lot of concern among people from communities long targeted by online hate. This concern is not unfounded. Smaller platforms which have taken an approach similar to the one Musk proposes, such as Telegram, have long been flooded with extremist content, Holocaust denial and pseudo-scientific racism under the guise of ‘free speech’.

“When the right to be racist, misogynist or homophobic is given precedence over the right of people not to be attacked or abused, social media becomes a dangerous and toxic space. We all have to hope that Elon Musk understands that.”

indy100 has contacted Twitter and Musk to comment on this story.

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