Saturday, June 03, 2023|
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Two years ago, signing a bill intended to punish Twitter and other major social media companies, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis blasted the platforms as “suppressing ideas” during the COVID-19 pandemic and silencing conservative voices.
What a turnaround.
The new Elon Musk-owned version of Twitter helped DeSantis launch his bid for the Republican presidential nomination Wednesday. Though it was marred by technical glitches and skewered by the candidate’s critics, the forum nevertheless underscored Twitter’s unmistakable shift to the right under Musk, who bought it for $44 billion and took over in October.
“The truth was censored repeatedly, and now that Twitter is in the hands of a free speech advocate, that would not be able to happen again on this Twitter platform,” DeSantis said during the Twitter Spaces event.
Musk, co-hosting the event, responded to the praise by saying, “Twitter was indeed expensive, but free speech is priceless.”
While Musk has promoted his platform as a haven for free expression, the site has been flooded with extremist views and hate speech since he bought it and fired or laid off roughly 80% of its staff.
That is raising alarms that Twitter — heavily used by candidates and government agencies, including those providing voting information — will become an open forum for conspiracy theories, fake content and election misinformation as a bitterly divided country heads into the 2024 presidential election.
Many Republicans have hailed Musk’s takeover of Twitter as creating one of the last mainstream online spaces where they can share their views without fear of removal. Prominent figures in conservative media, like former Fox News host Tucker Carlson and the podcasts hosts of The Daily Wire, say they plan to start streaming content on the site.
Democrats and anti-hate watchdogs, meanwhile, say Musk’s partisan comments and policy changes have effectively given a megaphone to far-right extremists.
Since Musk bought Twitter, he has overhauled the site’s verification system, removing safeguards against impersonation for some government accounts and political candidates. He also has personally indulged in far-right conspiracy theories on the site, reinstated accounts with a history of extremist rhetoric and gutted the team that had been responsible for moderating the content flowing across the platform.
That has coincided with a deluge of conspiracy theory rhetoric, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which reported that QAnon hashtags surged 91% on Twitter between May 2022 and May 2023, with about three-fourths of those messages posted after Musk’s takeover.
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