Democratic infrastructure must not be owned by the few
Elon Musk buying Twitter is a reminder that the power of platforms in shaping the digital public sphere means they should not be in the hands of billionaires.
For better or worse, Twitter has emerged as the key social network for news readers and newsmakers. Despite having a base of users far smaller than platforms such as Facebook, it plays a central role in setting the media agenda, is a central force in global political narrative-setting, and a key battleground in the swirling information wars accompanying every contemporary global conflict.
Power does bring responsibility and Twitter’s executive teams have faced difficult choices over the past decade. High-profile provocateurs such as Katie Hopkins and Alex Jones were eventually banned along with the permanent suspension of Donald Trump’s account on the grounds of incitement of violence – undoubtedly Twitter’s most seismic decision, and one the platform’s new owner Elon Musk has said he will reverse.
Although opinions differ on the rights and wrongs of decisions Twitter has made over the years, it remains remarkable that the rules of – along with the shape of and access to – the digital public commons continues to be made in a boardroom. Twitter’s October 2019 ban on all political advertising was accompanied with a note from then CEO Jack Dorsey which stated political influence should be ‘earned, not bought’.
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