When Elon Musk announced his offer to buy Twitter for more than $40 billion, he told the public his vision for the social media site was to make sure it’s “an inclusive arena for free speech.”
Musk’s actions since closing the deal last year have illuminated how he sees the balance internet platforms must strike in protecting free expression versus user safety. While he’s lifted restrictions on many previously-suspended accounts including former President Donald Trump’s, he’s also placed new limitations on journalists’ and others’ accounts for posting publicly available flight information he’s equated to doxxing.
The saga of Musk’s Twitter takeover has underscored the complexity of determining what speech is truly protected. That question is particularly difficult when it comes to online platforms, which create policies that impact wide swaths of users from different cultures and legal systems across the world.
This year, the U.S. justice system, including the Supreme Court, will take on cases that will help determine the bounds of free expression on the internet in ways that could force the hand of Musk and other platform owners who determine what messages get distributed widely.
The boundaries they will consider include the extent of platforms’ responsibility to remove terrorist content and prevent their algorithms from promoting it, whether social media sites can take down messaging on the basis of viewpoint and whether the government can impose online safety standards that some civil society groups fear could lead to important resources and messages being stifled to avoid legal liability.