Elon Musk used his Twitter platform on Monday to encourage “independent-minded voters” to vote Republican in Tuesday’s midterm elections. In doing so, the new CEO of Twitter entered a political argument that tech business leaders have generally avoided, so that their services would not be perceived as favoring one side.
Musk, who purchased Twitter for $44 billion, has previously expressed political opinions on and off the network. But a direct support of one party over another, now that he owns the platform, raises issues about Twitter’s ability to remain neutral while he is in charge.
Musk tweeted, “Since shared authority limits the worst excesses of both parties, I encourage voting for a Republican Congress, providing that the presidency is held by a Democrat.”
To independent-minded voters:
Given that shared authority restrains the worst excesses of both parties, I propose voting for a Republican Congress despite the fact that the presidency is held by a Democrat.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 7, 2022
It’s one thing for the CEO of Wendy’s or Chick-fil-A to promote a political party, according to Jennifer Stromer-Galley, a professor of social media and politics at Syracuse University. To do it as the owner of one of the world’s most prominent information ecosystems is a whole different matter.
“These social media sites are more than simply corporations. This is not merely a business. Additionally, it is our digital public sphere. This is the town square “Stromer-Galley commented. “And it feels as though the public realm is being privatized and owned by these corporations, and when the chiefs of these corporations put their finger on the scale, it has the potential to destroy our democracy.”
Musk’s comments come amid widespread fear that recent major layoffs at the social media platform could render the firm incapable of combating hate speech, misinformation that threatens voter safety and security, and individuals who aim to cast doubt on the legitimacy of election winners. Despite Musk’s pledge to prevent Twitter from becoming a “free-for-all hellscape,” advertisers have abandoned the network, and Musk himself has spread misinformation.
Musk tweeted and deleted a link to a story promoting an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory on the attack on Paul Pelosi on Sunday. Musk’s tweet, written just three days after he assumed control of the platform, aroused questions regarding the type of information that will be permitted on the social networking site.
It is no secret that the political composition of tech workers and executives tends to favor the left, with a healthy dose of Silicon Valley libertarianism. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, has contributed to politicians on all sides of the political spectrum, but in recent years he has gravitated more toward Democrats. He has publicly refrained from endorsing any political party.
But in their platform policies and content filtering, tech giants such as Facebook (now Meta), Google, and even Twitter have taken enormous steps to look politically neutral, despite being frequently attacked for favoring one side over the other, primarily by conservatives but also by liberals.
Charles Anthony Smith, a professor of political science and law at the University of California, Irvine, stated, “Now, you might say, hey, Rupert Murdoch controls Fox News, therefore that’s his voice amplified.” “The distinction, however, is that is filtered through a variety of screenplay writers, on-air personalities, and other such elements. Therefore, it is not Rupert Murdoch. There may be individuals who agree with him, but their opinions are filtered through other voices. Unadulterated direct touch exists. Therefore, this amplification is unparalleled.”
The global plumage rustled.
Musk’s tweets may also wreak havoc in international politics outside of U.S. elections. On Sunday, the billionaire showed a willingness to investigate restoring judgments barring the accounts of some Brazilian right-wing politicians. The nation’s electoral court ordered their suspension last week. All are supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who narrowly lost his reelection campaign to Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on October 30. The majority had alleged electoral fraud.
Paulo Figueiredo Filho, a political analyst who frequently defends Bolsonaro on social media and is also the grandson of the final president of the military dictatorship, said that Twitter has become a spontaneous and harsh censor.
“Your moderators are presently more authoritarian than our judiciary!” Figueiredo wrote.
Musk said, “I will investigate”
The suspended accounts include that of Lower House candidate Nikolas Ferreira, who received more votes in October than any other candidate. According to directives issued by the electoral administration, Ferreira’s account, along with the majority of others, was stopped for uploading a live video from an Argentine digital influencer who questioned the reliability of Brazil’s electronic voting system. The video was widely disseminated by Bolsonaro’s allies, who have long asserted without evidence that the system is open to fraud.
Equally upsetting the far right and far left
As of Monday, Twitter’s rules ban “manipulating or meddling with elections or other democratic processes.”
Two days after agreeing to purchase Twitter in April, Musk tweeted that “for Twitter to deserve public trust, it must remain politically neutral, which means irritating the extreme right and far left equally.”
Big Tech has attempted to go this route to attract the greatest number of marketers and users possible, with various degrees of success. For many years, it was successful. However, the 2016 U.S. presidential election altered internet conversation, contributing to the nation’s growing political divisiveness.
An unidentified former Facebook contractor was mentioned in a tech blog at the beginning of 2016 as stating that the site ignored news that conservatives are interested in and artificially pushed liberal causes such as the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag. The blog did not identify the individual, nor did it present any evidence to support their claim.
Nonetheless, in the volatile political context preceding the election of former President Donald Trump, the accusation took on a life of its own. There was extensive media coverage, as well as queries from Republican lawmakers, followed by congressional hearings. In the years that followed, when social media firms began to crack down on far-right accounts and conspiracy theories such as QAnon, some conservatives began to perceive this as evidence of the platforms’ prejudice.
According to Krebs, Twitter turbulence is creating a “very unstable situation” for the elections.
Musk himself is at least receptive to these assertions, and he has often spoken with right-wing and alt-right leaders that favor a relaxation of Twitter’s misinformation and hate speech restrictions.
There is evidence that these voices are currently being heard. In an October study, for example, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania discovered that “Twitter lends more attention to politically conservative news than to content with a liberal bias.”
Musk’s tweet received tens of thousands of retweets and hundreds of thousands of likes on Monday, the day before the final ballots are cast in thousands of races around the country. In replies and retweets, however, numerous notable (and not-so-notable) Twitter characters criticized the Tesla CEO, often making fun of him. Smith interprets this as an indication that Musk may not be the billionaire political kingmaker that some of his peers, such as venture capitalist Peter Thiel, aspire to be.
“I wonder if a new breed of billionaire is emerging, those who want to decide what occurs and receive credit for deciding what happens,” Smith added. Therefore, this strategy is more akin to an oligarchy than that of the old-school billionaires who would drop large sums of money but didn’t want everyone to know their names.