Musk’s dangerous decision to eliminate twitter censorship


Isabella Ciriello, Staff Writer

“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,” Elon Musk tweeted after striking a deal to purchase Twitter for 44 billion dollars. The tweet refers to Musk’s plan to make Twitter an uncensored platform. His statement left many Twitter users, including myself, confused about his intentions for the site. It was unclear to me if he plans to discontinue Twitter’s current censorship policies, such as deleting misinformation. Musk clarified that he believes censorship is contrary to the peoples’ interests. However, by allowing Twitter to be  uncensored, misinformation will flourish, placing its users in a potentially dangerous situation.

While I believe everyone should be able to express their opinions freely, private companies such as Twitter have a responsibility to combat the proliferation of misinformation on its platform. Even though Twitter is often used as a public entity and Musk claims that it is a “digital town square,” it is ultimately a privately-owned business that controls what information is allowed on its platform. These private companies have agency over the information that circulates online, so it is imperative that they remove misleading information, especially information regarding COVID-19. During Donald Trump’s presidency, he often spread misinformation on Twitter about  COVID-19, such as in October of 2020 when he wrote that he “can’t get it (immune), and can’t give it.” This obviously false tweet was flagged by Twitter because it “violated the Twitter Rules about spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19.” Under Musk’s new policy, it’s clear that he will not take such actions to combat misinformation.

Private social media companies have a duty to remove misinformation on their platforms. Many conservative politicians claim that they are censored more harshly and frequently than their liberal counterparts. In a study by MIT and Yale, researchers followed the online habits of 9,000 Twitter users, composed equally of Democrats and Republicans, for six months after the 2020 election to track which group was censored more often. They found that 35.6 percent of the Republican users in the trial were suspended, compared to only 7.7 percent of the Democrats. The study found that the Republicans “shared substantially more news from misinformation.” Despite what conservatives claim to be a biased censorship policy, Republicans have been found to spread more conspiracy theories and false information. According to the company’s website, Twitter’s current policy against misinformation is unbiased; it does not censor information for ideological reasons, but rather for content-based ones.

Republicans such as former President Donald Trump and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), were banned from Twitter for spreading misinformation. Musk’s “free speech” plan would allow these politicians to post false, hateful, or otherwise harmful information. For instance, Senator Ted Cruz wrote “Government propaganda…for your five year old!” in November 2021 after Big Bird from Sesame Street posted that he got vaccinated. His rhetoric impacts how his followers and supporters view vaccines, and makes them hold a negative view about the government’s intentions for requiring vaccination.

After the riots on January 6th, Twitter suspended numerous rioters because they used their accounts to spread violence. Musk’s plan would allow for these users to continue to share misinformation, even unknowingly, and present it as fact. I believe Greene and the Capitol rioters were rightfully banned because they both shared misleading information that could have put thousands of people in danger. In these cases, Twitter had a duty to consider public safety and protect its users. Because of instances like these, Twitter should not become a platform where anyone can post whatever they want. 

Giving politicians the freedom to post dangerous information, such as when Trump incited a massive uprising against the Capitol building primarily through social media, would potentially also be allowed under Musk’s new policy. Trump was notoriously known for his tweets that often spread misinformation; in December of 2020 he said, “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election. Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” Through his social media, Trump encouraged his supporters to take part in an insurrection. 

By inciting his supporters, the riots resulted in the assault of 140 police officers by a mob of over 2,000 supporters. Multiple social media platforms including Twitter, banned his account for inciting violence; however, this would not have occurred under Musk’s leadership. According to his plan, it is likely that Musk would permit anyone to post whatever they wish, so if Trump was allowed back on Twitter, he could continue to spread similar false information. In November of 2020 Trump said “there was a large number of secretly dumped ballots as has been widely reported!” referring to an error in Michigan where the data counter accidentally spiked in votes for Biden. His tweets often perpetrated false information which should not be allowed on such an influential platform.

Many of my peers consume news by scrolling through social media applications including Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram. As more people begin to rely on social media for their news, companies will become responsible for the content they choose to disseminate. If my peers and I rely primarily on social media for our news, and that information is false or misleading, it gives these companies the power to control what information an entire group of people are exposed to and could potentially sway how some people view important issues such as COVID-19.

Twitter must remove any false or potentially dangerous information because it has a duty to protect its users, no matter the political ideology of the user. If Musk moves forward with his plan to make Twitter an unregulated platform, it could potentially have detrimental impacts. Twitter is a platform where censorship has been practiced to keep its users safe, and should continue to do so even under Musk’s new leadership.