Musk should not let harmful posts go unchecked

Social media has become vital infrastructure through which many people exchange information. Its operators should be aware that a strong sense of ethics and social responsibility is required of them.

Twitter Inc. has decided to accept an offer from Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., a major U.S. manufacturer of electric automobiles, to buy the major U.S. social media company for about $44 billion (about ¥5.6 trillion). Twitter has reportedly approved the buyout deal, calling it “the best path forward for Twitter’s stockholders.”

Harmful posts, such as those involving defamation and fake news, have become a problem on social media. Twitter currently monitors posts, deleting such harmful content and freezing the posters’ accounts.

Musk has increased his criticism of such actions by Twitter and said the buyout was designed to further reform Twitter’s management. “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy,” he said in a statement.

However, harmful posts can never be allowed in the name of freedom of speech. It is quite natural for an operator to take measures against such content. A situation must be avoided in which problematic posts are left unattended after Musk’s takeover of Twitter.

Twitter is a social networking service on which people post short messages called tweets, with hundreds of millions of users worldwide. The service is widely used by celebrities and others to disseminate information, and it has great influence.

After the temporary occupation of the U.S. Capitol in Washington in January 2021 by a violent mob loyal to former U.S. President Donald Trump, Twitter permanently froze Trump’s account out of concerns over inciting violence. Musk reportedly has complained about this move as well.

Musk himself disseminates information through Twitter, but has been questioned about the appropriateness of the content.

In 2018, he was charged by U.S. regulatory authorities with securities fraud for a series of false and misleading tweets about a potential transaction to take Tesla private. In autumn last year, he caused a stir with a post asking about the pros and cons of selling his stake in Tesla.

Despite his success with Tesla and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), Musk has no track record in running a social media company. As he intends to delist Twitter after the takeover, shareholders will no longer be able to monitor the firm.

The European Union, which takes the lead in regulating information technology firms, is expected to introduce the Digital Markets Act to force tech companies to delete illegal content. The United States is also discussing strengthening regulations.

Japan reportedly has the second-largest number of Twitter users in the world. Twitter has become a venue for the defamation of a female professional wrestler and the spread of false statements about the Ukraine crisis and side effects from coronavirus vaccines.

The Japanese government also needs to be vigilant as to whether harmful posts increase after Musk’s takeover.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 28, 2022)