Elon Musk’s Grand Vision for Twitter Faces Reality Check in India, China

For all of the furor about which manner Elon Musk may tilt U.S. political discourse after getting the keys to Twitter Inc., his greatest challenges could emerge throughout the Pacific.

For all of the furor about which manner Elon Musk may tilt U.S. political discourse after getting the keys to Twitter Inc., his greatest challenges could emerge throughout the Pacific.

Asia, house to greater than half the world’s inhabitants, is Twitter’s greatest progress alternative and arguably a far thornier problem. If the Tesla Inc. and SpaceX billionaire makes good on guarantees to scrap censorship, he’ll encounter a plethora of perplexing rules, wielded by typically authoritarian governments, pushed to the boundaries by a horde of first-time web customers.

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The numbers alone counsel Musk’s greatest complications lie overseas. Twitter’s monetizable each day lively customers numbered 179 million internationally — dwarfing the 38 million in the U.S. in 2021, in response to its newest annual report.

As a public company, Twitter has repeatedly emphasised it should abide by native rules. Once it’s a personal concern managed by the world’s richest man, Musk will personally shoulder duty for navigating that thicket — and the fallout if he fails.

“Asia has the potential to make or break the new Twitter,” stated JJ Rose, a contributor to Australia’s nonpartisan Lowy Institute assume tank. “It will depend on how he approaches it if can harness it for his free speech aims.”

Representatives for Twitter and Musk didn’t reply to requests for remark.


Twitter is formally banned in China, however the nation will nonetheless demand plenty of Musk’s consideration. Inc. founder Jeff Bezos alluded to the potential conflicts in a tweet shortly after Musk’s deal, asking “Did the Chinese government just gain a bit of leverage over the town square?”

An apparent level is that China is tremendously necessary for Tesla, the important thing supply of Musk’s wealth. The billionaire will definitely face pressures — implicit or specific — to fine-tune Twitter’s insurance policies to please Beijing.

As the world’s greatest electric-vehicle market in addition to a provider of Tesla batteries, China is important to the wholesome progress of the centerpiece of Musk’s business empire. Tesla has additionally benefited from vital tax breaks in establishing his Shanghai Gigafactory — its first abroad plant — and been allowed to wholly personal its native operations, a rarity for a U.S. agency.

A urgent challenge is how Twitter handles China’s efforts to unfold propaganda globally on the platform. The company in 2020 instituted labels for authorities officers and “state-affiliated media” for publications like Xinhua and Global Times, and readers are reminded of this government-backing any time they like or retweet tales. Chinese media have referred to as the apply “intimidation” and already begun to foyer the billionaire to roll it again.

Chen Weihua, a journalist on the China Daily, appealed on to Musk with the argument that such labels suppress free speech and contradict Musk’s said rules. The billionaire hasn’t given a transparent indication of how he would determine such issues.

“By ‘free speech’, I simply mean that which matches the law,” Musk wrote on Twitter. “I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law.”

Bots are one other matter. China has additionally used automated and nameless accounts to distribute the federal government’s messages, which prompted Twitter to take away greater than 170,000 accounts in 2020 for “spreading geopolitical narratives favorable to the Communist Party.” Musk has pledged to “defeat the spam bots or die trying!” and sounds decided to maintain taking up the faux accounts.

Beijing has proven a willingness to punish billionaires who don’t adjust to its needs. Regulators have hammered the nation’s tech giants and successfully banished Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. co-founder Jack Ma from public view.

There are incentives on supply past the electric-vehicle market. Musk’s SpaceX may definitely search Chinese prospects, whereas his Boring Co. could revenue from profitable infrastructure contracts in the nation.

And what of Twitter itself? A slice of the Chinese inhabitants employs digital personal networks to evade Beijing’s management and use the service. Could Beijing additionally supply up entry to its 1.4 billion folks? Perhaps beneath the appropriate phrases. They would definitely not embody free speech.


India is one other high-stakes market for Twitter: there are half a billion web customers in the nation and one other half-billion getting on-line.

Twitter performs a task in India’s on-line discourse just like that in the U.S.: the nation’s political leaders use it to get their messages out, that are then relayed throughout TV and information networks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was an early adopter and has 78 million followers on the service — greater than Twitter has registered customers in the nation.

But the New Delhi authorities has insisted on much more management than Washington has ever been capable of exert. Tensions in the connection spiked throughout farmer protests in the nation in 2020 and 2021 as Twitter and the federal government clashed over what kind of speech could be tolerated on the platform.

When farmers’ teams demanded the repeal of sure legal guidelines they stated favored corporate-run farms, they took to the streets and social media to make their case, together with Twitter. Modi’s administration insisted the San Francisco-based company take down posts vital of its actions — and Twitter at first refused to conform. Indian authorities then threatened to jail the company’s executives, which prompted Twitter to completely droop greater than 500 accounts and block entry to tons of extra.

It was a direct instance of how assist for “free speech” can conflict with authorities edicts and authorized compliance. Later in 2021, New Delhi tightened its grip over social media resembling Twitter and Facebook: The authorities insisted that firms determine particular people as grievance officers, who can be accountable for dealing with official elimination requests and who may face jail phrases for non-compliance. Twitter acceded, albeit after a delay.

It’s not clear how Musk would reconcile his assist for extra free speech with such strict authorities controls.

“Twitter should match the laws of the country,” the owner-to-be stated in an interview.

The challenge is hardly restricted to India. Nearby Sri Lanka restricted social media entry in anticipation of protests in April, whereas Myanmar’s army junta final year disrupted web entry altogether in its push to quell opposition. Researchers discovered Twitter was the most-blocked social media platform globally with a complete 12,379 hours of outages in 2021.

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia has change into one of many fastest-growing web markets, fueled by nations like Indonesia and India getting their huge populations on-line.

But creating markets include their very own set of points. Meta Platforms Inc. names the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia as outstanding sources of faux and duplicate accounts. Meta, whose Facebook and Instagram providers face comparable challenges to Twitter’s, has for years reported in its annual filings that roughly 11% of its worldwide customers are duplicate accounts and one other 5% are faux. As with China, Twitter could have its work lower out to eradicate artificial customers.

Freedom of expression additionally bumps up towards native legal guidelines in this area. Singapore handed a contentious “foreign interference” legislation final year granting it powers to demand consumer data from social networks, in an effort to stop outsiders from swaying home politics. Would that sq. with Musk’s ambition of free-wheeling expression?

Vietnam has posed comparable challenges for on-line service suppliers like Facebook and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, with a cybersecurity legislation successfully forcing a alternative between upholding consumer privateness and adhering to native guidelines.

The question to be answered over the approaching years is how far Musk will stick together with his guarantees of releasing up Twitter — not simply in the U.S., however in the remainder of the world.

“Asia is not North America and it is not Europe,” stated the Lowy Institute’s Rose. “Musk has a globalist view and his business interests to date have tended to be fairly universal. But something like media requires a more nuanced approach when applied globally.”

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