Elon Musk, the self-proclaimed “freedom of speech absolutist”, tries buy Twitter for $44 billion. Brewing behind these scenes is what the EU is looking forward to Digital Services Act (DSA), which promises to regulate content, advertising and algorithmic processes on platforms such as Musk’s Twitter.
There is a growing gap in the vision powerful leaders have for the future of society and business.
On the one hand, we have tech CEOs who use their social and financial clout for absurd ends (of cryptocurrency markets collapsing over Tweets from Muskto Zuckerberg who the kind of way we ‘Like it’ to show emotion online… and how many billionaires have we sent? room†
On the other hand, we have governments trying to regulate the consequences of a few rich men upholding the ad revenue model and paying shareholders for quarterly returns. This is what the DSA hopes to do with online (mis)behaviour.
Interestingly, the tension between Musk’s “anything goes” “freedom of speech” and the DSA’s censorship reveals very human differences in their authors’ psychological blueprint. French digital minister tweeted that the DSA will apply to Twitter “regardless of owner’s ideology” – but the tension remains.
What psychological factors does Musk overlook?
First, individualist versus collectivist cultures have different interpretations of privacy
When we decide whether to disclose things on social networking sites, we evaluate the risks and rewards associated with our actions. Psychologists call this a ‘privacy calculation’and it turns out that those living in the EU have a different calculation than their US-based counterparts.
Musk’s cultural worldview is individualistic and advocates independence, uniqueness and individual rights. The EU – itself a collective of countries – resembles a collectivist culture, favoring group harmony over individual benefits.
Research shows that collectivist cultures have a higher degree of uncertainty avoidance, are more attuned to privacy risks, and place more importance on “controllable” social media encounters. Ring a bell?
Second, it’s all about relationship management
We are naturally wired with a belong† This means that we have a fundamental motivation to be accepted in relationships with others. According to the affordability management theorythis motivation is a strategic motivation where we interact with others in a way that facilitates our goals.
Because Musk’s culture is different from the EU’s, they have fundamentally different relationship goals. In fact, researchers have a distinctive ‘European value profile’ who prefers horizontal, harmony and egalitarian relationships (versus the vertical, mastery hierarchy of cultures like Musk’s, where social inequalities are more tolerated).
What does this mean in practice? The DSA is the regulation of horizontal relationships manifest. It aims to place actors on an equal footing to protect the collective. Musk’s view of democracy is one that gives importance and priority to what each individual has to say. The tensions between these two views will ease once the issue is understood empathically through the lens of relationship priorities.
Third, what does freedom of expression in an Algorithmic Association actually mean?
According to the theory of planned behaviorwe navigate the world through a thought-action link that assumes a degree of control over our actions.
Freedom of expression falls under this umbrella. You believe something inside and you somehow start to share it. Now imagine you are on your TikTok’s For You page. You’ll be shown videos from creators you don’t follow, but based on your past choices, the algorithm thinks you’ll like them. You watch passively. Is this passivity an exercise of freedom of expression? Is increased oversight of the algorithmic process (as the DSA promises) a threat to this freedom of expression?
The arrival of a Algorithmic Association has watered down the thought-action link that governs our behavior IRL. In addition to cultural sensitivity to relationship motivations, a much more nuanced, perhaps even philosophical examination of the thought-action link must take place before we can download our offline values into our online world.