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The EU’s empty threats to Musk

It’s objectively remarkable, on one level, how terrified some people seem to be about the prospect that free speech on one of the world’s largest social media platforms will be slightly less regulated than at present. Yesterday morning, the Irish Times chimed in, re-publishing a New York Times article which, more than a little hysterically, claims that “twitter under Musk will be a scary place”. Here are some direct quotes from the piece:

Female Twitter users, in particular, ought to worry about whether Musk will bring his apparent disdain for women to the company he is about to own. Twitter is already a toxic place for women who use it, particularly those of color.

With his legion of fans, Musk will command a gigantic megaphone and be free to plug his own investments, pooh-pooh sound health regulations and shout down critics.

Speaking freely: Does that sound like a better place?

Speaking of speaking freely, the Irish Times should be hoping that Mr. Musk is not aware of Irish libel or defamation laws, since claiming that he has “an apparent disdain for women” might well lead to an apology, and a little more, should he choose to pursue the matter.

And speaking even more freely, it is contemptible in its own way that an Irish newspaper would lower itself to publishing such rubbish. Elon Musk stands accused of acquiring a “gigantic megaphone” for his own ends. This conveniently ignores that Musk already commands a gigantic megaphone: Long before he purchased twitter, he was one of its top-20 most-followed users, with 85million people tuning in to read his thoughts. More, to put it mildly, than read the views that come from Tara Street. That he has so many followers suggests that his views are reasonably popular. The idea that a man whose every utterance makes news somewhere needs to spend 44billion to acquire a new megaphone is absurd.

Anyway, in the round, the concerns aired by the Irish Time amount to “Musk is a person who has the wrong views on the issues we care about”. It is not a serious criticism. It is simply a wail of fear that perhaps control over the internet will no longer rest exclusively with people with progressive political views.

And on that note, the EU has something to say, too:

THE EUROPEAN UNION has warned billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk that Twitter will still have to comply with the EU’s new laws curbing the power of big tech.

“No matter the shareholders, Twitter will from now on have to totally adapt to European regulations,” said Breton, who handles the EU’s industrial policy portfolio and was a key backer of the new laws.

“The law will now be very clear, much clearer in Europe than in the United States, with more rules in Europe than in the United States,” he said.

Asked about a possible return of former US president Donald Trump to Twitter, Breton said that the DSA also regulates decisions on who to ban by setting conditions and possibilities for appeal.

We will have very clear, very precise, very democratic, very readable rules for deciding on bans,” Breton said. “With us, banishment will obviously be possible, in certain cases necessary, but under democratic control.”

This is an entirely empty threat. The EU may well be able to regulate the circumstances under which a person may be banned from twitter, or any other social media platform, but it does not and never will have the power to mandate that individual accounts be banned. This kind of thing – “putting bans under democratic control” – is designed to sound authoritative and foreboding, but really, what is the European Union going to do? Set up a shadow twitter moderation team that tells Twitter who is, and is not, allowed to continue posting? That would be before the European Courts, for a very quick decision, in short order. The EU might as well try and pass a law telling McDonalds which named individuals can, and cannot, buy a hamburger.

The idea that the EU is going to tell Twitter that Donald Trump, for example, may post tweets that Americans can read, but that he cannot be read inside the EU, is laughable.

All of this is a form of what the kids these days are calling “cope”. I wrote yesterday that Musk will have to be careful not to allow his new baby become a free-for-all of holocaust denial and race-baiting, but at the same time, the idea that there is some foundational threat to democracy from people being able to talk about vaccine safety, or immigration, or transgenderism, or any of the other hot-button issues is a nonsense.

The meltdown about all of this has been very telling. This is a moment when political progressives, having long denied that the major social media companies have a thumb on the political scale, are now openly worrying that the thumb is being taken off the scale. The fear is one of loss: There is a palpable concern (though probably an overblown one) that the change in management at twitter will impact their political prospects.

That, I’m afraid, says much more about the present management of twitter than it does about Elon Musk.

It also makes this takeover something to celebrate, even if, in the long run, the changes to how the platform operates end up being reasonably minor. After all, when you fear what might happen if your opponents get to speak freely, you are really admitting your fear that what your opponents say might be popular.

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