Billionaire Elon Musk has received warnings about the need to protect Twitter users from harmful content, after reaching a $44 billion deal to buy the social networking site.
Musk has pledged to ease restrictions on content, which has raised concerns from rights groups about increased bullying and the spread of false news on the site.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that “regardless of the owner, social media sites are required to be responsible.”
The European Commission also alerted Musk to the duty to protect users of the site.
“Whether it’s a car company or a social media company, any organization operating in the European Union is obligated to respect our laws, regardless of their owners,” Thierry Bruton, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, wrote on Twitter.
The European Union said new rules would “reorganize” the digital market, including the way tech giants operate.
When the rules come into effect, companies will be required to be more transparent about why they suggest a certain type of content to users, and why they target specific ads.
“The basis of democracy”
Musk considers himself a supporter of “absolute freedom of expression”, and has previously criticized Twitter’s policy regarding content review, justifying his position that the site should be a real forum for freedom of expression.
Announcing the deal, Musk said, “Freedom of expression is the foundation of democracy, and Twitter is a digital time square in which issues that concern the future of humanity are discussed.”
The social media company is under increasing pressure from politicians and regulators over what is posted on the site, and is facing criticism from the left and right over its handling of fake news.
One of the most important measures Twitter took last year was to ban former US President Donald Trump, due to the risks of “inciting violence”.
But Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, who is still a member of the board of directors, welcomed Musk in a series of tweets, calling him “the only solution I can trust.”
He said the company was in Wall Street’s “quiver”, and that Musk’s decision to withdraw the shares was a “right first step.”
He added that Twitter would “continue to serve public dialogue,” but said he “believes that no one should own or operate Twitter.”
But Amnesty International said in a series of tweets: “We are concerned about any steps Twitter takes that would undermine the policies and mechanisms put in place to protect users.”
She added, “We do not want Twitter to turn a blind eye to the rhetoric of violence and abuse directed at users, especially the group most vulnerable to such behavior, including women and others.”
Twitter did not respond to the BBC’s request for comment on these concerns.
The 11 members of Twitter’s board of directors unanimously approved Musk’s deal.
Twitter CEO Parg Agrawal spoke to employees, noting that the company’s future is unknown.
He said, “When the deal is concluded, we will not know where the site will go.”
Will people abandon Twitter?
Musk said he hopes his biggest critics will stay on the site “because that’s what freedom of expression means.”
But a number of users threatened to leave Twitter, while others did.
British actress Jamila Jamil wrote that she expected “there is an increase in hatred and lawlessness at the site.”
She told her 1 million followers she wanted this to be her last tweet.
And Carolyn Or Bueno, a researcher at the University of Maryland, said she would stay at the site where 450,000 people follow her.
“Nobody knows what Elon Musk’s Twitter will be like, but what we do know is that if all the good people left the place would get worse faster,” she said.
Dan Ive, an investment analyst at Woodbush, expects users to wait before deciding to leave. “Now is the time to attract new users and stem the wave of departures,” he said.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday that President Joe Biden “has long expressed concern about the power of the social media giants, regardless of who owns or runs Twitter.”
Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren said the deal was a “risk to our democracy”, calling for a wealth tax and “strict laws” to hold the tech giant to account.
Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn welcomed the deal, saying it was an “encouraging day for free speech.”