Even though Elon Musk has said he wants Twitter to be a place where people can share thoughts freely, it's unlikely that his dream of unfettered commentary can even become reality.
"We know that most people want social media to be a place where they want to spend time, and if a social network becomes overrun by spam, or hatred, or misinformation, they're gonna leave for somewhere else," said Adam Kovacevich, technology trade group Chamber of Progress founder and CEO. "And so, I think every social network has to engage in content moderation to prevent that from happening."
Musk took over Twitter on Oct. 27, after paying $44 billion for the company. One of his first actions was to fire CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal, and Chief Legal Counsel Vijaya Gadde. Shortly after acquiring the company, he tweeted "the bird has been freed" and proclaimed himself the "chief twit."
The tech CEO has long said he wants to remove content restrictions that have blocked or barred many controverial figures from the platform. However, many advertisers have raised concerns that negative or inappropriate tweets might not be the types of materials they want to be associated with.
Twitter is reliant on advertising for revenue. During Q2 2022, the last time the company reported its quarterly earnings, it reported revenue of $1.18 billion — and about $1.08 billion was directly attributed to advertising. Already General Motors has said it will suspend advertising while new leadership develops.
"There are a bunch of conflicting signals, right?" Kovacevich said. "You've seen Musk talk about the allowing for more speech on Twitter, but at the same time, sending this letter to, open letter, to advertisers saying that he's aware that this type can become kind of a hellscape to drive advertisers away."
Other countries' laws, like the The Digital Services Act in the European Union, require platforms to take down illegal content based on national law and require review for any materials people submit as potential violations. Musk has said he will comply by all local jurisdictions.
Even Musk's proposed content moderation council isn't exactly a new concept. Most social media networks have one, points out Kovacevich. While removing more restrictions would may attract new users, Twitter has always been one of the most liberal when it came to content moderation already, he added.
But the moderation panel may provide another benefit: It buys Musk some time to develop his strategy without backing out of his promises.
"By saying he is going to assemble a board to make these decisions and that nobody who has been kicked off of Twitter will be allowed back on until this board meets, it is a great way just to postpone having to deal with some of the questions raised by the the notion of Twitter being a free for all, which is pretty much what he said originally," said Harry McCracken, Fast Company global technology editor.
More importantly, while allowing more points of view may help garner attention in the short term, at the end of the day the majority of people don't want toxic online environments. And if Musk's Twitter wants to survive, it's going to need people to use it and engage.
"People whose instinct is to be in favor of free speech and folks who think that Twitter has it in for conservative viewpoints are excited about a more open Twitter," McCracken added. "But they're excited about it as an idea and on principle rather than reality because it's clear that that a more unmoderated Twitter would actually be good for anybody."