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IU experts: Musk faces uphill battle addressing free speech on Twitter

Steve Jurvetson

Twitter announced Monday that the company had accepted Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s offer to buy the social media platform for $44 billion.

Musk plans to take the company private, and said he’ll loosen content rules. He said in a tweet Tuesday that by free speech, he means he is “against censorship that goes far beyond the law.”

Anthony Fargo is an associate professor in the IU Media School. He said that so far, Musk’s stated goal to make the platform as “free as possible” was vague.

"The big difference right now is that Musk wants to take Twitter private," Fargo said. "That basically means he won’t have stock holders to answer to, so his decision-making will be more free in that respect, that he won’t have pressure from people who own stock on the company.”

The platform has more than 1 billion users.

Fred Cate, the senior fellow of applied cyber security research at IU, said Musk had oversimplified the process of running a platform of that size.

“It sounds like a great thing to say ‘I believe in free speech.’ I believe in free speech too,” Cate said. “But on the other hand, the laws are pretty strict in much of the world. The U.S. is the only place in the world that has, if you will, the First Amendment.”

Musk has said he wants to make Twitter's algorithms public, which Cate sees as a double-edged sword.

“Is Twitter really going to tell you how to decide which tweets to favor? If they do, then we’ll all know how to write those tweets and suddenly the algorithm will mean nothing because everything will be favored.”

Cate said he expected to see Twitter try out different strategies to achieve Musk’s goals. He added it would be interesting to see what he’s willing to try now that he’s financially invested.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.