Why a group of democracies should take over Twitter and turn it into a public service
Elon Musk's rash and arbitrary behaviour as the head of Twitter is endangering a core online platform for access to information and debate and is, above all, endangering democratic principles. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) proposes that a club of democracies fund Twitter’s takeover in one form or another.
On 21 December, Elon Musk tweeted that he would stand down as Twitter’s CEO as soon as he found someone “foolish enough to take the job.” RSF has a counter-proposal that is more ambitious and more beneficial for the public interest. A group of democracies could together acquire a majority stake in Twitter, or one large enough to have a blocking ability, or they could create an international social media foundation that could own Twitter. In the first case, a shareholders' pact would ensure democratic governance. In the second case, the articles of association would provide safeguards to prevent any political interference.
“The post-Musk era must be one in which social media serve the public interest, RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. Both state and private-sector entities can, of course, serve the public interest. In terms of freedom of opinion and expression, such a service must be governed according to democratic principles, without the risk of arbitrariness or undue interference. The speed at which this billionaire has undermined Twitter should prompt democracies to respond all the faster and fund the takeover of this social media platform, in order to put it at the service of freedom of opinion and expression, including the right to information.
A foundation would be tasked with promoting the emergence of democratic social media, respectful of human rights and access to reliable information. It would be funded by international contributions. Its independence would be guaranteed and its supervisory board would include independent authorities. Its goal would be to ensure that communication technologies, such as social media, serve the public interest.
The European Union could be an important component of this initiative, regardless of the form it takes. To develop a social media and digital platform that serves the public interest without having to start from scratch, the EU itself or some of its member states could make an investment together with other democratic countries including, of course, the United States. As Twitter seems to have become a hot potato for Musk, who now fears the company could slide into bankruptcy, he may be interested in discussing this possibility.
Leading democracies were able to respond to systemic risks to banks. In this case, there is a systemic risk to the public online space and even to democracy. The time has come to take bold measures and to propose an international social media platform that serves the public interest. Elon Musk’s PR stunts have shown how quickly the online communication and information space can be degraded. These technologies have become essential to the flow of information and therefore cannot be subject to the caprice, ideologies or business interests of individual owners.
Big Tech firmly believes that innovation offers the answer to all problems. To respond to the major threats to democracy posed by Twitter, RSF is proposing a radical political innovation.