Row erupts over Musk's 'free speech' Twitter takeover as critics vow to boycott platform

26 April 2022, 16:04

Elon Musk's Twitter takeover has led to a number of critics, including Jameela Jamil, pledging to leave the site.
Elon Musk's Twitter takeover has led to a number of critics, including Jameela Jamil, pledging to leave the site. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

Critics have pledged to boycott Twitter over fears the social media site could become a "free pass for hatred" as news of Elon Musk's "free speech" takeover continues to divide opinion.

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Elon Musk, the world's richest man with an estimated fortune of $269bn, agreed to buy Twitter in a $44bn (£34.6bn) takeover on Monday, saying he plans to "unlock" the full potential of the social media giant.

A couple of hours before the deal was reached the Tesla founder posted online: "I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means."

The news has sparked debate about whether the deal is a win for "free speech" or if Musk's ownership is "dangerous for democracy".

Users have been divided by news of the takeover, with a number pledging to boycott the platform over fears it could mean a "free pass for hatred".

US senator Elizabeth Warren said billionaires like Musk "play by a different set of rules than everyone else, accumulating power for their own gain".

Read more: Trump vows not to return to Twitter despite 'free-speech absolutist' Elon Musk's takeover

She said we need a "wealth tax and strong rules to hold Big Tech accountable", accusing the takeover of being "dangerous for democracy".

Jameela Jamil, The Good Place actress and campaigner, was among those who said they would leave the site in the wake of the deal.

"Ah he got twitter. I would like this to be my what lies here as my last tweet," she wrote, alongside pictures of a dog.

"I fear this free speech bid is going to help this hell platform reach its final form of totally lawless hate, bigotry, and misogyny. Best of luck."

There were also reports earlier that Twitter has blocked its developers from making changes to the app to prevent it being sabotaged by left-wing staff angry at the Musk's takeover, a source told Bloomberg.

The Tesla founder has pledged to re-establish free speech on Twitter, but there has uproar online from his critics, who claim he will "allow hate to flourish".

Politicians have also waded in on the deal, with the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan urging social media companies to do "more, not less, to protect their communities".

Read more: Boris hints parents could receive childcare support amid cost of living crisis

"Free speech cannot mean a free pass for hatred," he said.

"We must not forget the impacts of online hate speech, which fans the flames of prejudice and leads to appalling and tragic real-world violence.

"Social media companies must do more, not less, to protect their communities."

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a human rights activist and founder of the AHA Foundation, which works to liberate women and girls from cultural practices that violate their human rights, welcomed Musk's purchase.

"Elon Musk now owns Twitter. It is a great day for Free Speech," she tweeted.

"Let's celebrate".

But Downing Street stressed the need for Twitter to remain "responsible" and protect users from harm.

"Regardless of ownership, all social media platforms must be responsible," the Prime Minister's official spokesman said.

"That includes protecting users from harm on their sites.

"It is too early to say what - if any - changes will be made to how Twitter operates.

"It remains an important tool, it's used by world leaders, and we will continue to work with them to make sure it continues to improve."

Even former US President Donald Trump, who was a committed user of the platform, said he won't be returning to the site.

He was banned for what Twitter attributed to the "risk of further incitement of violence" after the January 2021 Capitol riots in Washington, launching his own social media platform, TRUTH.

"I hope Elon buys Twitter because he’ll make improvements to it and he is a good man, but I am going to be staying on TRUTH."

He added: "The bottom line is, no, I am not going back to Twitter."