Musk, the world’s richest man,
completed his $44 billion takeover of Twitter and tweeted that “the bird is freed” followed by “let the good times roll” on Friday.
He soon fired
Twitter chief executive Parag Agrawal, chief financial officer Ned Segal and legal affairs and policy chief Vijaya Gadde.
Experts said Musk’s “free-speech absolutist” stance could intensify clashes between the US social media network and the Indian government, which has been putting pressure on social media firms to follow local regulations.
Musk’s statement to advertisers, however, seemed to have toned down, signalling some moderation in how he was looking at the platform, the experts added.
Anand Mahindra, chairperson of Mahindra Group, tweeted, “The bird has indeed been set free @elonmusk and we certainly want it to soar ever higher…but we’re hoping it will be a guided flight to a new orbit…not one that hurtles out of control. Wishing you well…”
The European Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, also responded to the tweet by saying: “In Europe, the bird will fly by our rules. #DSA” – referring to its Digital Services Act — which requires providers of digital services to take action against illegal online content like hate speech.
“Reactions from governments across the world may not be very positive, especially in cases of radical change in the management policies of Twitter,” Siddharth Mody, Senior Partner at Desai & Diwanji told ET while citing the Breton example.
The Indian government also made it clear that the company was expected to comply with local laws.
“Our rules and laws for intermediaries remain the same regardless of who owns the platforms,” Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar said.
The company has taken on the government over the IT rules released last year and content takedown orders.
Cybersecurity expert Prasanto Roy – who called Musk “a wild, digital cowboy” – told ET that an already-strained and stressed Twitter could have done without this wildcard.
“Musk’s free speech absolutism, getting back top right-wing handles starting with (former US President Donald) Trump, the man whose tweets led to the January 6 uprising on Capitol Hill, is not something that free speech and democracy really need at this point,” Roy said.
Salman Waris, partner – head of technology, media, and telecommunications at TechLegis, said Musk’s free-speech claims had already ruffled feathers and Indian officials have said that they expect Twitter to comply with local rules.
“This is significant, specifically considering the recent Twitter appeal in an Indian court to overturn some government orders to remove content from the platform. We could expect to see the tussle between the government and Twitter get further complicated and more court interventions soon,” Waris said.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who congratulated Musk on the takeover, said he hoped Twitter “will now act against hate speech, fact check more robustly, and will no longer stifle the Opposition’s voice in India due to government pressure.”
Virag Gupta, columnist and advocate, told ET that Musk had earlier acknowledged that he was not getting accurate information on bogus users on the platform.
“Fake news and misinformation are grave concerns in India and it will be interesting to see the user verification process that Musk puts in place to stem fake news, misinformation and bogus users on the platform,” Gupta said.
“Enhancements will pivot around balancing changing laws to address accountability and the government’s tussle with the growing power of the platform. Will it contribute towards more digital global integration or divided sovereign spaces is to be seen,” Sharma said.
Saurav Das, transparency activist and member, National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, said what may be offensive to one may not necessarily be so for another.
“Therefore, it must ensure that the power being delegated to the state (itself) to issue censor orders to platforms like Twitter are reasonable and balanced through a proper system of checks and balances,” he said.