Musk buys Twitter, national media proclaim free speech a threat
May 19, 2022
by Kevin Killough
Billionaire Elon Musk, the world’s wealthiest man, purchased Twitter for $44 billion.
Musk has long been a critic of the platform’s content moderation policies, and appears poised to, among other improvements, make the platform more open to a wider range of perspectives.
“Twitter is the digital town square, where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,’’ Musk tweeted last month.
Twitter is a public company and well within its right to decide what content it does and does not want to host. So, the “digital town square” description of a social media platform has some problems, but it is true the platform facilitates the political discourse of millions of people.
Twitter has long been the platform for the professional and journalist class to express their positions in 280 characters per tweet. You would think journalists, who work for an industry that has depended on the protections of the First Amendment, would welcome Twitter’s takeover by an avowed proponent of free speech. The reaction from the national media, however, has revealed a disturbing aversion to it.
Max Boot, a columnist for the Washington Post, tweeted that Musk’s open and free approach to social media is a threat to democracy.
Musk “seems to believe that on social media anything goes. For democracy to survive, we need more content moderation, not less,” Boot wrote.
Other critics have pulled out the well-worn ad hominem of slathering political opponents as racists. They argue Musk’s free and open platform will advance white supremacy.
For example, MSNBC anchor Joy Reid, claimed that Musk, who is originally from South Africa, is going to use Twitter to restore the oppressive system of Apartheid, a policy that institutionalised racial segregation in South Africa from 1948 until the 1990s.
This town square Musk tweets of, Reid argued, is “being able to harass people, being able to attack people … I guess he misses the old South Africa in the 80s, I guess he wants that back.”
The New York Times made a similar tortured argument in a hit piece last week called, “Elon Musk left a South Africa that was rife with misinformation and white privilege.”
The Times article tries to make the case that the ignorance of racial injustice that white South Africans had under Aparthied, which was the result of a repressive government that aggressively silenced its critics, was an example of what happens when “misinformation” spreads without limits under less restrictive speech policies.
Equating free speech with the promotion of racism requires a willful blindness to history. Every movement toward greater equality for marginalized groups, whether it was the Stonewall Demonstrations or Martin Luther King’s marches, depended on free speech protections that so many journalists now argue suppress enlightened attitudes toward equality.
You will not find a racist regime in all of history that offered its citizens free speech protections — quite the opposite.
It should be noted, there’s no evidence that Musk was ever a supporter of Aparthied. In the late 1980s, Musk migrated to Canada in order to avoid mandatory military service in South Africa.
He would later say in an interview, “Spending two years suppressing black people didn’t seem like a great use of time.”
The alarm over what will happen when Musk’s platform eases restrictions also seems to be blind to how content moderation policies on Twitter and other platforms have actually spread misinformation.
For most of 2020, Facebook banned people from discussing the possibility that COVID-19 originated from a lab in China, and many were left with the impression it’s just a kooky conspiracy theory. Many virologists now agree the theory is at the very least plausible.
Besides banning thousands of politically provocative accounts, including then-president Donald Trump in 2021, Twitter banned The New York Post for sharing articles about Hunter Biden’s missing laptop, a story that most major news outlets now admit was accurate.
Musk tweeted critically of that decision, as did CEO Jack Dorsey, who called it a “total mistake” and repeatedly apologized for it.
Vijaya Gadde, a top executive at Twitter, helped push the decision to censor that accurate story, and not surprisingly, she has been criticized for her role in it. The Washington Post reported that Musk’s rebuke was “targeting” the company’s employees for harassment. Strangely, the Post doesn’t seem to think its criticism of Musk targets him for harassment.
“Free speech for me, but not for thee” seems to be the attitude of so many journalists in the national media.
Whether or not Musk’s vision for Twitter, once implemented, will live up to people’s expectations of a free and open platform is yet to be seen. Even if Twitter continues as it was before, Musk has at the very least revealed a hostility to free expression in the national press.
Hopefully that awareness alone will arouse more people to condemn those who brazenly argue against something so central to all that has distinguished America as a nation. This country, founded upon the idea that all men are created equally, implemented that ideal with glaring imperfection. Over the course of our history, this nation moved more and more toward that ideal. The free exchange of ideas was instrumental in that accomplishment, and not a hindrance to it.