A key test for Elon Musk in managing Twitter will be how the platform deals with state-affiliated media in nations where Musk himself has a vested interest.
China, for example, which has been found to be running influence operations via tweet in the past, is a critical partner for Musk’s other business, Tesla, as it’s where many Tesla components are manufactured, while Musk is also looking to expand Tesla sales into India, and in both cases, the company will need to work with the government in each region to secure critical partnerships.
Which could prove problematic when it comes to moderation, and this week, there have been some concerning signs in how Twitter 2.0 may or may not be looking to manage such.
First off, as reported by Semafor, Twitter has halted its efforts to limit the reach of Chinese and Russian state-controlled media outlets, by removing labels on state-affiliated media content, designed to improve transparency.
Twitter expanded its labeling of state-affiliated media tweets last May, in response to the war in Ukraine. But now, it appears to have removed them entirely.
As per Semafor:
“In tests conducted by Semafor, the ‘Stay informed’ labels no longer appeared, even though Twitter’s state-affiliated media policy still continues to list the measure as one way it’s providing ‘additional context for accounts heavily engaged in geopolitics and diplomacy’. And when Semafor searched for Russian and Chinese state-affiliated outlets like Izvestia, Xinhua, and the People’s Daily, their official accounts showed up as some of the top results.”
That, of course, could also be attributed to Twitter’s staff cuts, which have reduced its capacity to implement such programs. But it does seem like a concerning development – and when you combine that shift in policy to Musk’s other business interests, there could, potentially, be an alignment in this approach.
That continues an emerging trend of Twitter making changes that are similar in nature to negative news reports, which could, potentially, be a means to dilute negative coverage.
For example, earlier this week, Twitter changed its traditional bird logo to the Doge icon, which is also the symbol for Dogecoin – which comes as Musk is being sued for $258 million over promotion of Dogecoin to artificially inflate the cryptocurrency’s price.
The change meant that if you went searching for stories about ‘Elon Musk’ and ‘Dogecoin’, the bulk of coverage was about Twitter changing its logo, not about the more negative Musk racketeering lawsuit.
Maybe, that could be a means of narrative control, or manipulation of media trends - and given that so many journalists rely on Twitter to stay informed, it could have an outsized influence in this respect.
But that’s not the only potential conflict that Twitter 2.0 is dealing with, as the Indian Government is also looking to implement new laws that would restrict social platforms from publishing negative content about government-related business.
As reported by TechCrunch:
“India amended its IT law on Thursday to prohibit Facebook, Twitter and other social media firms from publishing, hosting or sharing false or misleading information about ‘any business’ of the government and said the firms will be required to rely on New Delhi’s own fact-check unit to determine the authenticity of any claim.”
The new laws would see social media platforms lose their safe harbor protections in the region if they were to fail to act on removing such criticisms. Which would expand the Indian Government’s push to moderate and control speech on social platforms, an area where Twitter and local authorities have clashed in the past.
That would also be a challenge to Elon Musk’s free speech push – though, thus far, that push has seemed fairly contained the US only, with Musk repeatedly noting that the company will adhere to the laws of the land in each region, rather than making any specific stance.
Even if it does seem like an overreach by Indian authorities. As noted, Twitter has made a stand on such in the past, but will it continue to resist such regulatory changes, given that Musk also wants to maintain good relations with the local powers?
That could end up being a key consideration in such shifts, with Musk’s own potential entanglements influencing Twitter policy, which could enable more authoritarian governments to control speech in the app, at least to some degree.
It remains an element to monitor, as Twitter comes under more pressure to align with such requests.