Musk: everything in moderation?
Alice Gregory - 14th November 2022
One of the first pledges Musk made when he took over Twitter was to cut back on moderation in an effort to promote free speech. However, due to the surge of hate speech on Twitter since Musk took over, the future of free speech has come under scrutiny. The billionaire has previously been very vocal about his criticism of the app’s ‘censorship.’ There are of course are concerns about Musk’s idea of what this entails, especially as he has tweeted polls asking people to vote on issues such as ‘Freedom of Speech or Political Correctness.’ Worryingly, 80% of people had voted for ‘Freedom of Speech’ with 19 hours remaining on the poll. For this reason, it’s important to distinguish between censorship and moderation: the first prohibits, while the latter regulates. Elon Musk’s take on censorship is subjective, which makes the dismissal of Twitter’s entire human rights team all the more concerning.
Multiple people are questioning whether the restriction of hateful language violates freedom of speech. In the US, the First Amendment protects one’s right to freedom of speech, and that does include hate speech. However, any threat, discriminatory harassment, defamation or incitement of “imminent lawless action” is punishable. There seems to be a clearer distinction between free speech and hate speech in UK law. Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998 protects freedom of expression, which may be subject to conditions, like the section 4 of the Public Order Act 1986, which outlaws threatening or abusive language that may harass or distress another person. International human rights law also recognises that there are limits to freedom of expression due to the potential consequences. Even Amnesty International has stepped into express concerns that the app will become overrun by discriminatory language. Musk is certainly asserting his own freedom of expression – hence his tweets exclaiming “power to the people” – but there’s a huge risk of this restricting users’ other human rights, such as freedom from discrimination.