A few days ago, Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla, posted a poll on Twitter about the war between Russia and Ukraine. In the poll, Musk proposed ways to resolve the conflict. The tweet went viral and garnered over 2,400,ooo votes. For Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times newspaper, Musk “should learn a lesson” because he “believes too much in the freedom of speech of the United States and the West.” Hu shared on Musk’s post and Musk responded to him in Chinese.
For one of the world’s richest men, the Russia-Ukraine conflict can be resolved peacefully. He said so on Twitter on October 3, with a poll on the platform presenting several options.
The tweet read, “Peace between Russia and Ukraine” and indicated the proposals:
- Redo elections in the annexed regions under U.N. supervision. Russia leaves if that is the will of the people.
- Crimea is formally part of Russia, as it has been since 1783 (until Khrushchev’s mistake).
- Water supply to Crimea assured.
- Ukraine remains neutral.
More than 59.1 percent of voters chose the “Yes” option, and some users commented on how many bots had participated in flipping the vote, to which Musk responded in the tweet thread, “Indeed. Biggest bot attack I’ve ever seen.” And then in another tweet, he said, “The bot attack on this poll is strong!”
Meanwhile, the former editor-in-chief of the Global Times, shared Musk’s post, and said, “Elon Musk has unleashed too much of his personality, and believes too much in the ‘freedom of speech’ of America and the West. He will be taught a lesson.”
Following this, several Twitter users responded to Hu. One wrote, “Despite constantly insulting Western leaders on Twitter without consequences, Comrade Hu complains about Western ‘freedom of speech.'” User Han Yang commented, “Dude, try insulting Xi on Weibo.” Another replied, “Someone is very angry that he is going to lose his propaganda tool.”
User Ashin Jain said, “A CCP [Chinese Communist Party] slave who has never witnessed freedom in his life would never understand what freedom of speech is. A country that kills its own citizens for speaking their minds rarely understands what freedom is. Let me show you freedom of speech with Chinese characteristics.” A video was added showing a Chinese woman complaining to a pandemic team, and them surrounding her to shut her up.
Many Twitter users criticized Hu and his questioning of freedom of expression in Western countries, while Twitter is banned in China. Users accessing the platform must do so with specific software to get through the Great Firewall of the Chinese internet.
Recently, a retired hacker who worked for the U.S. government, Peiter Zatko, made a complaint about possible Chinese Communist Party infiltrations of Twitter.
Zatko’s complaint noted that Twitter executives agreed to increase their revenue through advertising revenue in China. The largest buyers of advertising guidelines are local governments and Chinese Communist Party state media. The advertising is shown worldwide. In the whistleblower report, Zatko indicated that Twitter executives knew that by accepting investment from the CCP, the platform could be forced at any time to send confidential Chinese user data to the communist regime. Therefore, Twitter would be violating its own privacy rules and would also be risking the security of its users.
Hu’s criticism of Musk travels the fine line between a “personal” criticism and a veiled threat to freedom of speech and press on the Twitter platform.
Moreover, during all the commotion caused by Musk’s tweet about the Russia-Ukraine war, he was negotiating the final purchase of Twitter for the initial price.
In one of the formal letters sent to Twitter during the negotiation process, Musk explained why he wants to buy the platform, “I have invested in Twitter because I believe in its potential to be the platform for free speech around the world and I believe that free speech is a social imperative in a functioning democracy.” He added, “However, since making my investment I have come to realize that the company will not thrive or serve this social imperative in its current form. Twitter needs to transform itself as a private company.”
In a leaked video of a virtual internal meeting between Musk and thousands of Twitter employees, which also included the platform’s CEO Parag Agrawal, Musk said, “I think an important goal for Twitter would be to try to include as much of the country, as much of the world as possible.”
Musk wants to include as “as much of the world as possible” and wants freedom of speech on the platform, however, if Musk’s purchase comes to fruition, what will happen to the negotiations between the platform and the Chinese Communist Party? How would Twitter under Musk’s leadership deal with constant attacks from the communist regime and infiltrations of its platform by thousands of Chinese bots?
The big question of how free speech on Twitter will be protected involves many aspects, however it also reflects the global situation of free speech in the West and the latent threat of the Chinese Communist Party to Western ideals of freedom. This confrontation between Musk and Hu on Twitter is showing just this danger. And Musk’s response to Hu’s criticism was “overconfident man with his hands in his pockets all day.” What did Musk mean by this Chinese phrase? It will surely be understood more clearly in the future, when the Twitter buyout process is final and Musk has to face the company’s executives.