Regulator to ‘closely watch’ Twitter following Musk takeover


Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

Australia’s eSafety Commissioner will be “closely watching” Twitter to ensure it follows local privacy laws and regulations following news that tech billionaire Elon Musk will be buying the social media platform for $61.4 billion.

It was announced on Monday that Mr Musk, the chief executive of both Tesla and SpaceX, will be buying Twitter for $US44 billion, or $US54.20 per share. This will transform Twitter into a private company after it was publicly listed nearly 10 years ago.

News of the acquisition has raised concerns of Australian digital rights advocates, who are concerned with the impact on journalism and democracy and have called for improved privacy laws in Australia.

Twitter takeover

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant has said her office will be closely watching the performance of the social media platform following the acquisition to ensure it is adequately protecting its users.

“It’s difficult to speculate at this stage about what this takeover means for Australian Twitter users and their online safety, but we are glad to hear that Elon Musk believes local laws need to be observed wherever Twitter operates,” Ms Inman Grant told InnovationAus.com in a statement.

“While the implications of this takeover remain to be seen, we will be keeping a close watch and making sure that Twitter and other platforms are taking the steps required under Australian law to address online safety issues.

“One thing that is clear is that the entire technology industry needs to lift its game when it comes to safety standards and protecting their users from harms. Trust and safety and moderation are very complex areas and require more than just artificial intelligence to manage.”

Digital Rights Watch executive director James Clark said the organisation is “concerned” about the implications of Mr Musk’s acquisition on journalism and democracy.

“Obviously we will have to see what his changes look like in practice, but we are uncomfortable with a billionaire owning and controlling what is essentially digital infrastructure,” Mr Clark told InnovationAus.com.

“Ultimately we should be looking at other ways to support public debate on platforms that are not subject to the whims of an unaccountable and unpredictable billionaire.”

Mr Musk said the main reason for his acquisition is to uphold free speech on Twitter.

“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” Mr Musk said in a statement.

“I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots and authenticating all humans.”

But the deal is likely more about power than freedom of speech, Mr Clark said.

“Musk now has the power to shape and control a platform that is used by millions of people around the world to access news, share opinions and build community. He’s essentially bought the power to shape public debate by deciding what content gets amplified and what content gets suppressed,” he said.

“Musk’s style of free speech absolutism will further tilt the scales in favour of the rich and powerful who can use their power to silence or bully critics, something that Musk has already shown a willingness to do. What Musk really seems to want is freedom from accountability.

“His approach to content moderation will likely make Twitter a less safe place for many people to speak freely while allowing powerful disinformation and propaganda campaigns to spread unchecked.”

For Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) chair Justin Warren said structural reforms are more important than who owns any particular tech company.

“EFA’s policy positions don’t change based on who owns a social media company. Australians still need much stronger privacy protections, and fundamental rights protected by federally enforceable laws. Then it wouldn’t matter who owns Twitter,” Mr Warren told InnovationAus.com.

“If which billionaire owns a media company matters so much perhaps we, as a society, need to take a harder look at that.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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