Solomon: Is Musk Hurting Twitter by Caving to Dictatorship's Censorship Demands?
Elon Musk finds himself in a very tough situation this week — one in which he and Twitter are facing a crucially important takedown request.
As attorney Nancianne Aydelotte explains, “A Twitter takedown request, also known as a DMCA takedown, refers to a process where individuals or entities ask Twitter to remove or disable access to information that is illegal, irrelevant, or outdated.”
Twitter receives takedown requests for reasons such as copyright infringement, hate speech and other violations of its terms of service. If Twitter receives a DMCA takedown notice, it has the option to permanently or temporarily lock the user out of his account until he reviews and agrees to Twitter’s copyright policy. It’s worth noting that takedown requests can come not only from individuals or businesses, but also from governments.
Turkey has consistently submitted the largest number of removal requests to Twitter, except in 2019, when it ranked third. In the first half of 2014 alone, Turkish officials asked Twitter to remove content 186 times and issued more than 60 court orders for the same purpose.
On March 21, 2014, Turkey temporarily blocked access to Twitter following a court order to implement “protection measures” on the platform. This action was taken after President Tayyip Erdogan made statements expressing his intention to “eliminate Twitter” due to corruption allegations within his inner circle.
In March 2021, Twitter joined other companies in complying with Turkey’s repressive social media law. This law mandates that social media companies must respond to takedown and blocking requests within specific timeframes or face fines ranging from 5 to 10 million Turkish lira (around $250,000 to $500,000).
Twitter also announced that it would set up a legal entity in Turkey to continue operating there under the country’s controversial internet law that requires social media companies to appoint a local representative to handle legal requests.
In the past, Twitter has responded to Turkey’s takedown requests by complying with the country’s laws. Nevertheless, Twitter has also taken steps to challenge Turkey’s access ban. The platform has engaged in discussions with the Turkish government, aiming to restore access to its services in the country.
As of this week, this no longer seems to be Twitter’s policy under its still relatively new owner, Elon Musk.
Did your brain fall out of your head, Yglesias? The choice is have Twitter throttled in its entirety or limit access to some tweets. Which one do you want?
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 13, 2023
This weekend was also a particularly interesting time to be watching the Twitter machinations through the lens of Musk as CEO, because that tenure is coming to an end, at least for now.
Linda Yaccarino is the new CEO of Twitter. Yaccarino is a former NBCUniversal advertising chief with deep ties to the advertising industry. Musk announced on Thursday that he had found a new CEO for Twitter, and Yaccarino is expected to start in about six weeks.
While Musk’s current plan is to become Twitter’s executive chair and chief product officer, focusing on product design and new technology, this Turkey situation could become more emergent and set the new CEO on a collision course with Musk that has the potential to limit her tenure.
Part of what attracts advertisers to Twitter is that many millions of users around the world rely on the platform for news and communication. Twitter has an odd gravitas, as it is a repository for silly memes and critically important breaking news at the same time.
For Yaccarino to step in at this point is going to be even more challenging than it needs to be. By complying with Turkey’s repressive social media legislation, Musk is not only sending a much larger message about Twitter’s stance on free speech, but he is placing a potential game-changing obstacle in front of his new CEO, who already has a massive challenge in getting Twitter on track.
Because the real problem is, when you cave to a dictator — as Turkey’s Erdogan is in every conceivable way — you’re incentivizing other dictators to follow the same plan of attack.
How this plays out over the next few weeks will be interesting to watch, but the idea that this current free speech issue will blow over is more than likely unrealistic.
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