Twitter isn’t a usual technology company. It is A news–producing machine which is persuasive around the world. This opens up a gamut of perspectives to broach upon, including fake news, propaganda, bots, etc
With the news comes ad revenue- an important driving factor, Elon Musk – a businessman with wealth equivalent to the GDP of New Zealand – will use Twitter to earn ad revenue and/or to please stakeholders of its businesses (like Tesla). Musk due to formally take over by the end of the year, it’s now a wait-and-see situation.
Digital Town Square vs Democracy
About 83 per cent of world leaders use Twitter because of its reach. In some way, Twitter is an essential tool for digital diplomacy and political campaigns. Twitter’s most-followed global leader is India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Democratic countries like India cannot afford this risk of misuse – in disguise of free speech–of a platform like Twitter that may harm Indian citizens individually and the whole country’s security and peace. Because of the devastating speech/data manipulation cases, More countries favour the localisation of Data/Speech censorship
Musk portrays himself as a “free speech absolutist” and has stated that “free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.” In general, Town squares’ can be booked by paying the fees that may impinge on the spirit of democracy.
Previous creators of such “free speech” narratives, the trustees of Data Free Flow with Trust (DFFT) themselves, are in trouble. The US, which controlled the internet space, has seen the repercussions of data free flow in the form of a negative impact on elections. Similarly, the UK who initiated the Digital single market concept in the EU is facing one of the biggest crises in history, i.e. Brexit. Brexit again shows a manipulated use of social media data to influence public opinion negatively. The whole narrative of the nation has been changed and diverted, i.e. from developmental issues to Brexit issues. This is the level of harm misuse – in disguise of free speech- of social media platforms can do.
Secondly, when we say DFFT or free speech which category of the data we are talking about. For sure, no country will allow “speech” that creates chaos. Thus, classifying speech sources like Government, business, and personal is also a gigantic and complicated task.
Democratic countries like India cannot afford this risk of misuse – in disguise of free speech-of a platform like Twitter that may harm Indian citizens individually and the whole country’s security and peace. Because of the devastating speech/data manipulation cases, More countries favour the localisation of Data/Speech censorship.
Musk’s tweets provide insight into his thought process regarding Twitter. Musk has proposed Twitter could make the algorithm open-source. On March 24, Musk conducted a poll about “Making twitter algorithm open-source” and about 83 per cent of 1 million respondents said yes. Musk didn’t stipulate what exactly he wanted, but, in general, open-source software is freely available and can be altered.
Musk tweeted that “a social media platform’s policies are good if the most extreme 10 per cent on left and right are equally unhappy.” Although, how Twitter would measure this is still a question.
The dichotomy of “open source” is a lot of propagandists and fake narrative creators will be exposed, which is good for a healthy democracy and social harmony. But, open-source algorithms can be edited; instead, in this case, algorithms can be manipulated by autocratic states and terrorist groups.
Musk’s credibility as a self-designated “free speech absolutist” is under the scanner. Jeff Bezos – Amazon founder, raised the alarm that “Twitter under Musk” could become defenceless to China’s pressure apparently because Tesla has significant stakes in China.
Political Economy of Digital Platforms
Social media is becoming a synonym for soft power. Law enforcement, geo-politics, individual data protection and human rights are the major factors that drive the demand for Aatmanirbharta in the digital platform economy. The politics (e.g. Controlling public opinion) and economics (e.g. attracting countries and companies to invest in Bharat’s digital platform) will shape the future world order.
Bharat urgently needs a short- and long-term strategy to be “Aatmanirbharta in the digital platform economy.” Domestically, all major institutions/ influencers should start reducing their dependency, for sharing information, on international platforms and increase their usage of Indian platforms. Internationally, Bharat’s foreign policy must include expanding and growing Indian digital platforms. e.g.Before/during foreign trips, PM Modi should use Indian digital platforms (like Koo) to connect with the diaspora.
In the context of the digital platform economy, the following is very relevant- ‘‘शतहस्त समाहर सहस्र हस्त संकिरा’’ (Earn by hundred hands and distribute by thousand hands.)