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Elon Musk’s big plans for Twitter: What we know so far

Matt O’Brien AP

Published by Adeze Ojukwu

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has laid out some bold, if still vague, plans for transforming Twitter into a place of “maximum fun” once he buys the social media platform for $44 billion and takes it private.

But enacting what at the moment are little more than a mix of vague principles and technical details could be considerably more complicated than he suggests.

Here’s what might happen if Musk follows through on his ideas about free speech, fighting spam and opening up the “black box” of artificial intelligence tools that amplify social media trends.

Musk’s feistiest priority — but also the one with the vaguest roadmap — is to make Twitter a “politically neutral” digital town square for the world’s discourse that allows as much free speech as each country’s laws allow.

He’s acknowledged that his plans to reshape Twitter could anger the political left and mostly please the right. He hasn’t specified exactly what he’ll do about former President Donald Trump’s permanently banned account or other right-wing leaders whose tweets have run afoul of the company’s restrictions against hate speech, violent threats or harmful misinformation.

Should Musk go this direction, it could mean bringing back not only Trump, but “many, many others that were removed as a result of QAnon conspiracies, targeted harassment of journalists and activists, and of course all of the accounts that were removed after Jan. 6,” said Joan Donovan, who studies misinformation at Harvard University. “That could potentially be hundreds of thousands of people.”

Musk hasn’t ruled out suspending some accounts, but says such bans should be temporary. His latest criticism has centered around what he described as Twitter’s “incredibly inappropriate” 2020 blocking of a New York Post article on Hunter Biden, which the company has said was a mistake and corrected within 24 hours.

Musk’s longstanding interest in AI is reflected in one of the most specific proposals he outlined in his merger announcement — the promise of “making the algorithms open source to increase trust.” He’s talking about the systems that rank content to decide what shows up on users’ feeds.

Partly driving the distrust, at least for Musk supporters, is lore among U.S. political conservatives about “shadow banning” on social media. This is a supposed invisible feature for reducing the reach of badly behaving users without disabling their accounts.

There has been no evidence that Twitter’s platform is biased against conservatives; studies have found the opposite when it comes to conservative media in particular.

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