Musk also restricted the use of his Starlink satellite Internet service in Ukraine and made statements that were interpreted as supporting Russia’s claims to Ukrainian territory. Musk’s other company, Tesla, relies on China as a market, as a manufacturing center and as a source of raw materials, raising concerns that it could be pressured to curtail or remove content critical of Beijing. In October, he was criticized for intervening in China’s dispute over Taiwan’s future.

Twitter has been used in the past to influence national politics in several countries. Guardian reported this week that an Israeli company used the platform to manipulate the results of 27 elections. Under Musk, Twitter was also accused of being slow to respond to the rise of misinformation about the Brazilian election, which ended in a coup attempt.

Musk also directly tweeted misinformation. In January, he apologized for tweeting a baseless conspiracy theory about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, who was attacked in their home in late 2022.

Neither Musk nor Twitter immediately responded to a request for comment.

Twitter has reportedly fired its government relations teams around the world, and was the only major tech company not to provide the European Union with a full disinformation report as part of its voluntary disinformation code of practice this month. The apparent shutdown of Twitter’s press office also limits the company’s accountability.

But while TikTok’s ability to change what users see has left politicians scrambling for regulation, the response to Twitter’s changes has been muted. “The politicians’ varying levels of outrage highlight both their hypocrisy and low media literacy,” says Stephen Buckley, a lecturer in media and communication at City University London who specializes in US politics and social media. “Essentially, the difference between what TikTok is doing to amplify messages and what Twitter is doing right now is very small.”

Agnes Venema, a national security and disinformation researcher at the University of Malta, says she thinks Musk is given more leeway because he is seen as a prankster when he manipulates the conversation, while TikTok, owned by Chinese tech company Bytedance , involved in geopolitical debates. . “I really see a double standard when it comes to the outrage that TikTok is doing this while Musk goes on his merry way,” says Venema. “I believe this is at least partly due to security interests, the fact that TikTok is Chinese, and the cult of personality around Musk.”

According to Kerry Cooper, a professor of organizational psychology at the University of Manchester’s business school, this cult of personality has helped Musk make drastic decisions about how the platform operates without much oversight. “He’s very much in Trump mode in terms of needing attention,” Cooper says. “He wants attention, and he needs attention as a person.”

However, Cooper doesn’t think there’s more to Musk’s decisions than that. “This is a man who craves attention. A man just needs attention and adoration. I don’t think it’s vile.”

Venema says Musk’s use of algorithmic heating should be a wake-up call. Platforms have always manipulated what people see online, but it’s rarely so obvious.

“We all like to believe in this illusion that social media is really a marketplace of ideas where anyone can get an audience,” she says. “The mask is important in a way to pull back the curtain and show that some people are actually given a megaphone and others are not.”

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