As Elon Musk continues to make arbitrary and irresponsible decisions that affect Twitter users around the world, ARTICLE 19 calls on regulators to support decentralising power in digital markets.
Since Elon Musk took over Twitter back in October, his chaotic leadership has caused havoc, with profound implications for users and free expression.
From firing a large portion of Twitter’s trust and safety team, responsible for content moderation on the platform, to dismantling the Trust and Safety Council, which offered expert opinions on Twitter policies and practices and their impact on rights and safety of users, it’s been clear that Elon Musk’s vision of free speech is one that lacks any accountability.
The situation reached another low point last week, when Twitter suspended accounts of a number of prominent journalists who were trying to hold Musk to account. Although the accounts were reinstated, Musk’s takeover of Twitter has exposed the dangers of concentration of power in the hands of not just a few large social media companies, but of one person.
Musk’s erratic indication that he might step down as head of Twitter does not indicate any profound change in the way that Twitter is going to be run. It remains to be seen what the new arrangements will be, but the company will still be owned by Musk and he will continue to exercise enormous power over it – either directly, or through whoever is appointed the new CEO.
Barbora Bukovská, Senior Director of Law and Policy at ARTICLE 19, said:
‘ARTICLE 19 has long argued that the concentration of power in the hands of a few companies is dangerous for our society and democracy. Arbitrary decisions and lack of transparency and oversight create a situation where users around the world are dependent on a whim of a few powerful individuals.
‘Regulators are slowly stepping in. The Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act in the EU, through increased transparency requirements, some limits to big tech’s behaviours, and the strengthening of the procedural rights of users, including the right to appeal content moderation decisions, are steps in the right direction.
‘However, to meaningfully tame the power of big tech, we need to break up their dangerous monopolies. Creating competition among different players in the digital markets is the only way to change the status quo, allow real alternatives and empower users so that they can choose better services where free expression and human rights are adequately protected. Regulators need to create the conditions for those alternatives to grow.’
In Taming Big Tech, ARTICLE 19 set out policy recommendations on promoting free expression online by enhancing competition in social media markets. The regulators should consider measures that promote interoperability and the unbundling of two distinct services: hosting content and content curation. Unbundling could mean the largest social media platforms would still be able to curate the content on their platforms, but they would be required to allow competitors to provide content curation services.
The unbundling would take the power out of the hands of few most powerful companies, and help introduce more open, fair and decentralised digital markets, overseen by independent and accountable regulatory authorities. This, combined with the imposition of human rights standards on every player, will guarantee that freedom of expression and other fundamental rights of users are adequately protected online.