After criticism of billionaire Elon Musk and Twitter owner over its response to government censorship demands, Musk said on Sunday that Twitter had “no real choice” about complying with those requests.
This comment comes after Musk previously described himself as an “absolute free speech”. He said he wanted to buy Twitter to enhance users’ ability to speak freely on the platform.
Shortly after agreeing to the Twitter takeover, Musk explained his approach to free speech by saying, “Can someone you don’t like say something you don’t like? And if that’s the case, then we have free speech.”
He added at the time that Twitter would “be very reluctant to delete things, be very careful with permanent bans,” and that the platform would aim to allow all legal speech.
But Musk has faced a setback in recent weeks for appearing to be subject to demands for government censorship, including by removing some accounts and tweets at the request of the Turkish government ahead of the country’s elections other than requests from the Indian government.
In an interview with the BBC last month, Musk was asked if Twitter had removed a documentary about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the request of the Indian government, and said he did not know “exactly what happened.”
Bloomberg columnist Matthew Iglesias wrote on Twitter on Sunday, noting that Twitter has complied with the majority of government takedown requests since Musk took over as owner of the platform. Musk responded, “Please indicate where we had an actual choice and we will reverse it (referring to the lack of options).”
Musk has previously said the company will comply with the laws that govern social media companies around the world, although in some cases such laws run counter to his vision of freedom of expression.
In an interview last month with the BBC, Musk said, “The rules in India about what can appear on social media are very strict, and we can’t override the laws of any country… and if we had a choice either our employees would go to jail or We will abide by the laws, we will abide by the laws.”
At another point in the interview, Musk said, “If people in a certain country are against a certain kind of speech, they should talk to their elected representatives and pass a law to prevent that.” “By ‘freedom of expression’ I mean what is in accordance with the law and I am against censorship that goes beyond the law,” Musk said in a tweet last year about his vision for Twitter.
In some countries, Twitter may risk significant fines and other penalties including system bans for non-compliance with local laws.
However, prior to Musk’s takeover, Twitter frequently opposed government takedown requests in court, including those from India and Turkey, as well as publicly publishing detailed information about such requests and how it handles them.
In many cases, Twitter has led the charge among social media companies in protecting the rights of its users around the world.
In its last takedown request report before Musk’s takeover, Twitter said it received more than 47,000 takedown requests between July and December 2021 and complied with 51% of them.
And in many cases, when they comply with a removal request due to the laws of a particular country, they only remove the offending content in that country, not globally.
Musk was also criticized for backtracking on his vision of “freedom of expression” when Twitter temporarily blocked the accounts of several high-profile journalists in December, claiming they violated the site’s new “information check” policy.