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Much has already been said about Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter; much has been admired or decried that it is possible for a single man to spend over $40 billion to buy a company, apparently with the sole purpose of changing the censorship policy and the number of words each message can contain.
In fact, there is much more at stake than that.
Firstly, Elon Musk has made no secret of his intention to massively reduce control over the content of the messages that can be written there, in accordance with the American conception of freedom of expression; except perhaps in Europe, where the Digital Service Act, which comes into force these days, should in principle prohibit the dissemination of defamatory statements, threats, or false news.
Of course, Twitter so far is not perfect, far from it, and the deletion of Donald Trump’s account was an arbitrary act, without any democratic justification. As is the ability, and I am often a victim of this, to threaten people with death with impunity.
But Musk wants to go much further in the right to shout hate, to lie, to spread fake news. Without any verification of the truth.
Aware of the consequences of this free speech, 26 very powerful Anglo-Saxon activist associations have come together to publish a manifesto calling on advertisers to stop using Twitter because, they say, a company would have everything to lose by seeing its products alongside hate messages and fake news. Elon Musk, who makes no secret of the fact that he intends to massively develop advertising on his network, was at liberty to denounce, behind these associations, those who finance them, including, he says, the foundations chaired and run by George Soros, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
In fact, it is clear that Twitter, under Musk’s reign, will cease to be the great free and universal media that it is today and will become a commercial media, where many will have to pay to have the right to be informed and to write on it.
Moreover, many people, and not only among the Democratic leaders, see the hand of the Republicans behind this transaction, which would be above all a manoeuvre of American domestic politics, to put this very large global media at the service of the Republicans and Donald Trump.
And, even if there is more to this operation than that, can we imagine what the United States and the world would be like if, in six months’ time, the Congress became entirely Republican, supported by a Twitter put at its service? Can we then imagine a presidential election in which this network would openly campaign for Trump’s return to the White House? Can we imagine this president, once again dominating his favourite network, going against the grain of his successor and predecessor, withdrawing American troops from Europe and leaving Western Europeans to face their neighbours alone (as was already his intention at the end of his first term)?
This is what is at stake today behind what seems to be just an episode of global Monopoly.
So what should be done, especially in Europe?
First of all, make the DSA operational as soon as possible, this network regulation which, if it is properly applied, should prohibit Tweeter from broadcasting in Europe all the lies that will no longer be censored elsewhere. However, this regulation must have the financial, judicial and human resources to be effective. We are still a long way from that.
Secondly, Europe should do everything it can to help create other networks of the same nature, to make them as powerful and, at the same time, to demand that Twitter, like the other major networks, be considered as global public goods, or at least obey global rules.
More generally, Europe should spearhead a battle leading to the establishment of a global governance allowing to get out of this crazy situation where one person can easily find more than 40 billions to play with democracy, (and this is only the beginning!); while no one can find the same amount of money to vaccinate the planet against contagious diseases, to launch a great program of ocean protection, to plant tens of billions of trees that would absorb the CO2 emitted, or so many other problems, which can only be dealt with globally.
All this should finally convince us that only the European level gives us a small chance to protect ourselves and counterattack; and make all those who believe (or want to make others believe) that a country can isolate itself from the rest of the world recognise that this can only be done by denying reality. And by paying the price.