Updated: May 10
- Thursday, April 28th, 2022 -
So... Elon Musk, the world's richest man who operates Tesla and SpaceX, purchased Twitter for a whopping $44billion. Its been a few days now since the transaction, and there are still a few more steps for him to take in the paperwork process before he owns it in a way that matters, but the reactions online have been entertainment gold.
The hot takes and melt downs on Twitter itself about him purchasing the platform is enough to make any rational human laugh hysterically, but its 2022 and everything is framed as good vs. evil and left vs. right. Elon should do everyone a favor, buy Facebook/Instagram as well, and just turn off the switch. Everyone behind their screens is so quick to react and have an existential crisis… but why? Where is the Elon hate coming from?
Musk has prided himself as a professional troll online, bringing amusement to millions; myself included. Yes, we should strive for good faith interactions with each other, especially online where tone and intent is lost in translation - but sometimes a good "dunk" on someone just feels good. Twitter is the oddball in the social media family as it only provides a certain number of characters and restricts nuance. It was never intended to be a debate of thought platform, but more so a real time diary of life. Remember the old twitter format? "John Smith is_______". But it has devolved into something that taps into the instant gratification fix we all need. Something newsworthy happens, where do we go to get the most instant reactions? Twitter - and the reactions are half thought, full of typos, missing context, and usually guilty of placation to a group of followers just to garner likes and retweets.
Elon has created some strange bedfellows in the past 4 years, and I don't think it is unintentional. The man who singlehandedly revolutionized the electric car industry, making the idea of getting the world off of gasoline driven engines a real possibility, is being celebrated by those who deny climate change is even remotely a threat. His coziness with conservatives has raised eyebrows on the left, the very side who used to champion him as the renewable energy god. The breaking point for the left? Freedom of speech.
The New Free Speech Debate
The founders of our nation could never have envisioned a public forum like Twitter, let alone the internet's existence. A light bulb would blow their minds. Yet, their penned wisdom has stood the test of time. The first amendment is simple:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Blood has been shed over and over to protect this very freedom, and now we've entered a new era of debate. Social media companies like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, etc now are a part of our daily routine. They are embedded in how we conduct business, communicate, plan parties - everything revolves around their usage. People who are off the grid are considered strange (but ironically seem less self-destructive). I won't get further into the mental health issues of these platforms, but the point being they ARE our lives now.
The question revolves around whether private companies need abide, by law, to free speech as defined by the Constitution when curating posts. Who within Twitter has ultimate control over what gets published or not, and when is an algorithm making mistakes? The censorship on Twitter has thrusted us into partisan accusations of bias and a debate on what constitutes their responsibility in adhering to free speech. One of the main contentions has been the lack of explanations given to those who's posts have been taken down, or who's accounts have been banned.
Elon has been an adamant critic of Twitter's bias against conservative voices, especially in the wake of 2020's messy election. But what's his plan? Listen to him discuss Twitter here in a TED talk from April 14th, 2022:
Timestamp: 11:48 - Twitter, free speech and open-sourcing the algorithm
Elon Opens The Curtain
The left's fear of Elon's reinstatement of "free speech" on twitter seems to stem from a fear of debate. I have always been a proponent of allowing all ideas to come to the table, and letting the better ideas prove themselves and become more robust with criticism. The left, and the decision makers at these social media giants, seem to be 100% OK with employing censorship to prevent ideas they don't like from seeing the light of day.
Elon's plan to open the curtain to the algorithms Twitter uses to flag heinous things like child porn or graphic videos, and allowing a crowdsourced feedback loop may help provide transparency and understanding as to why certain posts or comments get lumped into certain definitions. The norm has been Twitter's executives hiding behind the tired "hate speech" argument, or hiding behind the mainstream media's encouragement of banning people like former President Trump for "incitement of January 6th's Capitol Riots" - but they fail to provide actual reasoning. What is the true definition of "incitement" on via tweet? Twitter's lack of communication has bred conspiracy and has emboldened conservative's claims of bias. The left's dishonest dissection of this has only added more fuel to the political fire.
Need I bring up the ever present COVID-19 flags and the banning of any account discussing the lab leak theory or vaccine discussions? What about the censorship of the Hunter Biden story? The list goes on, and there is plenty there for the right to be upset about. Elon peeling back the tint on the window may bring us closer to a more robust public square.
So is Elon a rich villain who is attempting to platform conspiracy theories, racism, and transphobic tweets? Or is he a hero who is attempting to solve a real problem in our public
discourse? I believe in the latter, and I trust he is mindful of the former, but time will tell how his ownership and privatization of Twitter impacts its use. Our public needs to learn how to fight bad speech with good speech, and present better ideas in the face of criticism.
I'll give Elon's tweet about his purchase the final word: