Macron and Musk meet for ‘honest discussion’ amid Twitter hate speech concerns

French President Emmanuel Macron met with Elon Musk for what he called a “clear and honest discussion” amid mounting concerns over a rise in hate speech on Twitter.

While visiting the United States on Friday, the French leader posted a photo on Twitter of his encounter with the billionaire, showing the two men sitting across from each other at a table in an empty room.

In addition to discussing “future green industrial projects”, Mr Macron said the pair talked about the social media platform’s “transparent user policies, significant reinforcement of content moderation and protection of freedom of speech”.

Mr Macron had criticised Mr Musk’s relaxation of content moderation policies the day earlier, telling the television programme Good Morning America it was “a big issue”.

“Free speech and democracy is based on respect and public order. You can demonstrate, you can have free speech, you can write what you want, but there are responsibilities and limits,” Mr Macron said in the interview, adding that he is in favour of more regulation.

On Friday evening though, the French president said Mr Musk had confirmed Twitter’s participation to the Christchurch Call which was founded by France and New Zealand in response to the terror attack on two Christchurch mosques in 2019.

The Call entails voluntary commitments by governments and tech companies to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.

In announcing Mr Musk’s commitment to the Call, Mr Macron said: “There is no place for terrorist and violent extremist content anywhere.”

In another tweet the French president added: “Transparent user policies, significant reinforcement of content moderation and protection of freedom of speech: efforts have to be made by Twitter to comply with European regulations.”

Another post by the president said France and Twitter would be working together to improve online child protection on the platform.

“Elon Musk confirmed it to me today. Let’s better protect our children online,” Mr Macron said.

It comes after online safety campaigners said hate speech on Twitter is rising under Mr Musk’s ownership, despite the billionaire’s claims that it has been declining.

The Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) said Mr Musk’s recent tweet suggesting that hate speech impressions are down by a third was “misleading” because it focused on how often tweets were seen, rather than how many containing hate speech were actually being posted to the site.

In its own research, the CCDH said it has found that, since Mr Musk took over the social media platform at the end of October, the number of tweets containing racist and other hateful terms has risen substantially.

The data showed that the number of tweets containing the N-word are being posted at triple the rate compared with before Mr Musk’s takeover.

And it revealed that tweets containing other racist, homophobic and transphobic terms are also being posted more regularly.

The group analysed tweets from the month preceding Mr Musk’s takeover and compared them with posts in the week leading up to his tweet about hate speech impressions.

Elon Musk attends the opening of the Tesla factory Berlin Brandenburg in Gruenheide, Germany on March 22, 2022
Online safety campaigners said hate speech on Twitter is rising under Elon Musk’s ownership (Patrick Pleul/Pool Photo/AP)

The CCDH said Mr Musk’s focus on tweet impressions was obscuring the fact that the number of hateful tweets being hosted by Twitter was actually rising, which it said was a failure to enforce platform community standards.

Before his takeover, the billionaire businessman had said he believed Twitter should allow more free speech and that he would loosen content moderation to enable this to happen.

Earlier in the week a top European Union official also warned the social media platform’s new owner that the company must do more to protect users from harmful content.

Advertising accounts for the vast majority of Twitter’s revenue, and some companies have already paused their advertising on the platform over concerns about Mr Musk’s approach.