A Cabinet minister has warned Elon Musk that Twitter will have to adhere to the Government’s new online safety laws amid fears that he could turn the social media platform into a “superspreader of hate”.
The billionaire entrepreneur, who bought Twitter in a $44billion deal last month, has raised concerns over the future of the site after vowing to make the platform less ‘woke’ by prioritising freedom of speech and offering previously banned users an amnesty.
Former US President Donald Trump is among the controversial figures to be offered the chance to return to the site along with rapper Ye, formerly Kanye West, sanctioned last month for posting anti-Semitic comments, and former professional kickboxer Andrew Tate – whose extreme misogynistic views led to a Twitter ban in 2017.
But Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said, on Tuesday morning, that while she backed freedom of speech, Twitter would have to fall in line with its tough new internet safety laws which, if broken, could leave firms facing fines of 10 per cent of their global turnover.
On Mr Musk’s Twitter takeover she said: “Look, he’s an individual that’s purchased a private business, but it’s important that we have those safeguard mechanisms around it, so no matter what direction he wants to take Twitter in, we will have this triple shield in place. For adults, they will have to adhere to the new rules [and] for children to take off content.”
Asked on Sky News about reinstating “choice” characters she added: “I do believe in free speech. I passionately believe that is the cornerstone of our democracy, but I also believe in freedom of choice, which is why we’ve added that safeguard mechanism. So you will have more choice over the content that you see. I believe that people shouldn’t be subjected to illegal content.
“And I believe that if a company is going to say that they’re going to do something, they should actually do it. and they shouldn’t be conning people in terms of conditions that aren’t actually then enforced.”
Speaking later on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said many of the major social media platforms already had tough rules regulating abusive and harmful content but there were questions over their record on enforcement.
She said: “If you read the terms of condition of Facebook and Twitter etc..they cover all these things, they cover racism, they cover abuse to women, they cover anti-semitisim, the problem is on a Monday they might enforce them, on a Tuesday they don’t.”
Under the Government’s new Online Safety Bill, set to return to the House of Commons next week, social media sites will have to offer its millions of users a “triple shield of protection” with platforms forced to remove illegal content, take down material which breaches their own rules and adults given a greater choice over the content they see.
The new Bill will also offer tougher protection for children by requiring platforms to verify the age of users and make the promotion of self harm illegal.
But critics of the Bill say ministers have watered down plans to require social media firms to remove “legal but harmful” content after coming under pressure from Tory MPs who said it would have a chilling effect on freedom of speech.
Since buying Twitter droves of staff have quit the platform as he has embarked on a series of radical changes, prompting fears that the site could become a free for all.
Many advertisers have expressed concerns over the direction Twitter could take under Mr Musk’s ownership and yesterday he accused Apple of threatening to remove the site from its App Store.
In a series of tweets he said the iPhone maker had stopped advertising on Twitter, prompting him to ask if the tech group hated free speech.
“Apple has also threatened to withhold Twitter from its App Store, but won’t tell us why,” Mr Musk said.
The Center for Countering Digital Hate, a US-based campaign group, has said “superspreaders” of hateful content would benefit from the decision to offer previously banned users like Mr Trump an amnesty and has urged advertisers to stop funding Twitter.
“Superspreaders of hate, abuse and harassment will be the only people to benefit from this latest decision by Twitter,” Imran Ahmed, chief executive of CCDH has said. “The choice for advertisers has never been starker: stick around and back Elon Musk, or protect their brands and ensure their marketing dollars aren’t used to enable the spread of hate, abuse and disinformation.”