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Musk’s Twitter takeover must not silence activists

Now that tech billionaire Elon Musk has completed his takeover of Twitter, he must protect the voices of human rights defenders across the globe. 

While Musk stated that the company will not make major revisions to its content moderation policy until a council is established, there are already campaigns to flood the platform with hateful conduct and messaging.

Twitter, in spite of its flaws, is an essential tool for activists, journalists, and human rights defenders to share information, campaign, and address threats around the world. Musk must make decisions in the near future to ensure the platform will protect the people who depend on it. 

While much of the takeover conversation so far has centered on what it means for people who use Twitter in the U.S., it is the global majority who are likely to feel the brunt of any policy changes that put profit over people. Given Musk’s backpedaling on funding satellite internet infrastructure in Ukraine, and his proposals on content moderation and account verification that would put marginalized communities at greater risk, Musk and Twitter have a long road ahead to rebuild trust and center human rights. 

“Twitter has been a lifeline for activists and dissidents since the Arab revolutions in 2011. Musk’s takeover casts a frightful shadow over the platform’s future, critical to many living under digital authoritarianism in the region,” said Marwa Fatafta, MENA Policy and Advocacy Manager at Access Now. “Musk’s billionaire’s brand of free speech — a privilege for those who can afford to pay for it — shows how far he is willing to go for profit, and how little he understands about people’s safety.”

“Musk’s infamous handling of the Starlink situation in Ukraine shows that he is not a reliable partner,” said Natalia Krapiva, Tech-Legal Counsel at Access Now. “Twitter must rebuild trust in Eastern Europe and Central Asia to demonstrate that the company under Musk’s thumb will not gamble with the rights and safety of vulnerable populations facing war and unprecedented repression.” 

“In the midst of the rise of right-wing bigotry in the African region, Musk’s views on content moderation do not bode well for the future of marginalized communities who already suffer attacks on Twitter,” said Jaimee Kokonya, Africa Campaigner at Access Now. “People rely on the platform to express themselves, build community, and access information that has contributed to the development of their self determination.”

Access Now urges Musk and the team at Twitter to lay out a concrete plan to protect activists and the online community at large, and to build on the important work the company has previously done to uphold human rights, including its global human rights commitments and robust transparency reporting. Twitter must seize this opportunity to move forward, not backward. Civil society depends on it.

Activists, journalists, or human rights defenders in need of emergency digital security support can contact Access Now’s Digital Security Helpline.