Conflict of values

Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter marks a head-on collision between the libertarian values ​​that have shaped the Internet since its inception and democratic values ​​undermined by hands-off. This is a unique opportunity to reformulate the flexible concept of “net neutrality” so that the digital environment finds the right balance between freedom of expression and the protection of human dignity.

Our columnist Pierre Trudel described in February in a piece entitled “The High Cost of the Libertarian Internet” the excesses caused by the misguided decision of democracies to limit Internet regulation. In the name of innovation, the free flow of ideas, and consumer accessibility, digital platforms have been able to set their own rules.

Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey had ambitions to make the social network a predominantly democratic 140-character agora, a tool for emancipation and public communication free from shackles and boundaries. There are still tweets on Twitter representing these ideals. But they coexist with a hopeless hodgepodge of hate, intimidation and fake news. The founders gradually realized that their agora would lose its luster without heightened vigilance in content moderation. In recent years, Twitter has not without difficulty sought to purge the platform of the most vulgar croaking.

On the contrary, Elon Musk relies on a libertarian ethic. An absolutist in his definition of freedom of expression, he has frequently criticized Twitter’s moderation policies to reduce the quality of debate. On a personal level, he repeatedly donned the garb of a beggar troll, demonizing those who didn’t think like him.

The quirky billionaire promises to expand the freedom space on Twitter, much to the delight of Trumpism-peddling Republicans who now live in an alternate reality. In the same vein, he also made two highly desirable proposals to improve the transparency of algorithms and the authentication of human users. We are still facing the same issue. Can one person dictate restrictions (more precisely, the absence of restrictions) to freedom of expression in a social network?

Musk’s takeover of Twitter gives elected governments an opportunity to rethink the concept of “net neutrality” and hold the digital commerce giants more accountable for the content they post online. The European Union has just embarked on this path with its regulation of digital markets.

Neither media nor technology companies, these platforms require a separate structure within which the dissemination of ideas and critical thinking will always be encouraged, but within the limits applicable to all citizens and businesses. In democratic societies, there is no place for hatred or disgust towards others.

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