Home News Chinese and Indian dissidents fear censorship over Musk’s Twitter deal

Chinese and Indian dissidents fear censorship over Musk’s Twitter deal

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Elon Musk’s $ 44 billion bid to buy Twitter puts the world’s richest man in the spotlight of censored governments such as China and India, raising questions about how Tesla CEO could respond demands to suppress dissent in the countries where he does business.

For Musk, with its various assets, from SpaceX to its Tesla company, controlling the levels of information that governments would like to see removed means the possibility of significant returns or declines for its brands.

With a quarter of its global sales in China, as well as about half of its production and a major Tesla battery factory at Giga Shanghai, the electric vehicle company is seen as likely to be under pressure from Beijing once Musk takes over. on Twitter. .

Human rights activists fear the pressure could come in the form of demands to censor the activity of dissidents and activists on Twitter, to transmit information about anonymous accounts or to remove the “state-affiliated media” label attached to the Chinese press.

“I think people are especially worried because Musk has Tesla business in China,” Yaqiu Wang, a senior Chinese researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera. “So people are worried that the government could capitalize on business in China to try to silence or influence Twitter.”

Tesla’s ties with China have led to a return to the past.

During the launch of Tesla Model 3 in Hong Kong in mid-2019, at the height of the suppression of anti-government protests by China, Tesla drew criticism from activists who questioned the timing of the launch, given the company’s significant production operations in mainland China.

More recently, the company was outraged in January when it opened a showroom in China’s Xinjiang region, where rights groups estimate that more than a million ethnic Uighur Uighurs are being held in so-called “re-education” camps.

Tesla deliveries
“The question of China’s attitude is a potential issue that needs to be raised,” Dexter Thillien, chief technology and telecommunications analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, told Al Jazeera.

Potential risks cast doubt that the Twitter takeover deal will be completed by October 24. U.S. antitrust assessments could further delay this takeover. Tesla shares fell 12 percent or about $ 21 billion on Tuesday, and any further declines could jeopardize the business.

“Tesla risks being caught in the middle of a geopolitical crossfire from which it could be very difficult to escape,” Al Jazeera told John Engle, chairman of Almington Capital Investment Group and electric vehicle market analyst.

“Otherwise, Tesla’s massive public profile [şi al lui Musk] – both in China and in the US – could end up targeting the company. “

Engle said the Biden administration’s firm stance on China could become even stronger if geopolitical tensions rise, leaving Tesla as a political pawn in a bigger game.

“Musk’s planned acquisition of Twitter could add to these tensions, especially if influenced, the US administration takes the position that Musk’s ownership of the platform could expose it to unjustified influence by the Chinese government,” he said. he.

U.S. companies, from NBA and Hollywood studios to Apple, have bowed to Chinese pressure on numerous occasions in the past.

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Last year, professional actor-turned-fighter John Cena apologized in Mandarin for calling Taiwan a self-governing (independent) country that Beijing considers a separatist province.

“If you look at the kind of concessions that Apple has made to reassure the Chinese government, there are many incidents, but one example is that China has told Apple TV not to portray China in a negative light,” Wang said. “So this kind of censorship goes beyond China.”

When firms took a public stand against China, Beijing responded, for example, by instigating a boycott of fashion traders who removed Xinjiang-produced cotton from their supply chains over allegations of forced labor.

China’s Foreign Ministry earlier this week rejected speculation that Beijing could use its influence on Tesla to influence Twitter content as unfounded.

Musk’s views on free speech, government social media regulations and other business interests of the billionaire could also clash in India, which has the third largest Twitter user in the world, after the US and Japan. .
Although India’s 23.6 million accounts make up less than 2% of the country’s population, the platform has a huge influence due to its use by the urban elite, politicians, cultural figures, sportsmen and other celebrities, according to experts.

“In India, Twitter sets agendas and posts often create news,” Al Gazeera’s Apar Gupta, executive director of New Delhi’s digital rights advocacy group, told the Internet Freedom Foundation. “It is also popular among those who challenge the government, whether it is the environment or the concerns of farmers.”

This makes the platform the target of intense government control.

During historic protests against controversial farm reforms last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration called on Twitter to suspend several critics’ accounts.

The company initially followed the directive, but then reinstated some of the accounts after facing outrage from civil society. This has sparked months of controversy with the government, which has responded to new regulations requiring social media companies to share private conversations between users and officials and crackdown on content that New Delhi identifies as “illegal”.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks
Musk said his definition of free speech includes any expression that “conforms to the law.” But in India, “the government can now legally ask Twitter to remove certain accounts,” digital rights activist Nikhil Pahwa told Al Jazeera. “What are you doing then?”

The founder of Tesla and SpaceX has been pursuing the giant Indian market for some time, but so far he has been frustrated by the high rates that would make his company’s electric cars too expensive for most Indians.

Starlink, Musk’s satellite internet company, is still awaiting a commercial license to operate in India. But earlier this week, the country’s transport minister, Nitin Gadkari, contacted the world’s richest man, asking Musk to produce Tesla cars in India. That would be “good profits” for Musk and “good savings” for India, he said.

At the same time, some activists fear that Tesla’s expansion into India would give New Delhi a leverage on Musk the next time he wants to target his opponents.

“Anything that allows the government to dictate terms to Twitter and other social platforms is bad for citizens ‘movements,” Darshan Pal, the leader of last year’s farmers’ protests, told Al Jazeera. “Social networks are the way we integrate our requirements. Take this and it will be much harder. ”

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According to Pahwa, Musk’s targeting of Twitter limits against misinformation and hate speech is also a concern – especially in India, where both issues are considered widespread.

“Twitter has made serious progress lately in cleaning up the platform,” he said. “His criticism of these efforts is not great news.”

Musk has twice criticized India’s top Twitter-based lawyer Vijaya Gadde, who is credited with implementing content moderation policies in recent posts.

In practice, allowing freedom of expression on a platform such as Twitter means establishing rules that allow communication without fear of harassment and threats in response, Pahwa said. “If you scare people, you won’t get freedom of speech – that’s what Musk needs to understand.”

Instead, he had little to say about Chinese authoritarianism.

“Concerns for Chinese activists are particularly important,” Wang said. “For example, the Saudi government’s ability to try to influence Twitter is at a very different level compared to the Chinese government’s ability.”

Another risk Tesla faces in China is Beijing’s ability to shrink its market share in favor of its “national champions,” such as BYD, Nio and Xpeng, as it has done in the past, when other foreign companies have eclipsed local colleagues.

“Taking over Twitter may have given China a stronger grip on Elon Musk and his carmaker Tesla,” Baruch Labunski, founder of Rank Source, told Al Jazeera.

“China is well known for putting pressure on foreign affairs to conform to its narratives,” he said. “Mr. Musk is also unlikely to respond publicly to China, as he did to Saudi Arabia because of the importance of the Chinese market for Tesla.”

Musk’s public comments indicate that his plans for the social networking site include the introduction of an edit button, loosening of content moderation rules, and allowing longer posts.

Other potential changes would include misinformation and spamming, requiring some sort of user authentication, although rights activists fear that this could harm users in China and other restrictive media by using anonymity to protect them from government retaliation.

“Authentication features may eliminate some robots, but they will not eliminate the large body of Chinese government officials and employees who use Twitter to engage in propaganda for the Chinese state and Xi Jinping,” Renee Xia, director of AlJazeera, told AlJazeera. Chinese Human Rights Network.

“I have not seen anyone acclaim this development,” Xia said. “Like Microsoft or Apple or anyone else doing business in China, Musk is no different and will not be able to support free speech by sacrificing his efforts to make a profit in China.”

Al Jazeera contacted India’s IT Ministry and China’s Foreign Ministry for comments, but there were no responses until the material was published.

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