Discussion: Elon Musk, Twitter, and free speech

April 28, 2022 • 11:30 am

I am really isolated from the news on this trip: we get no newspapers and I have no time to either read the papers online or listen to news on television. But I gather that Elon Musk has now acquired Twitter.

I also gather that he wants to turn it into a “free speech” platform, and, as he tweeted below, his intention is to allow “free speech” that is simply speech permitted by the First Amendment as adjudicated by the courts (i.e., no personal harassment, false advertising, child pornography, speech that incites imminent lawless action such as violence, and so on).

I see no immediate problem with this, even though Twitter, as a private company, need not abide by the First Amendment. In my view, the closer institutions like Twitter get to construing “free speech” as the courts have construed the First Amendment, the better. The same goes for universities.

Yet there are cries I see online that if Musk acquires Twitter, he will allow “hate speech” (see one example of these objections here.) God forbid, he might allow Donald Trump to tweet again! Thus people are saying that “moderation” will be needed. If that’s the case, who will be the moderator, and who will be moderated? What will be “hate speech” that should be banned, and what will be controversial speech that will not be banned?

I ask readers to discuss this issue. Is Musk’s First-Amendment policy, which will of course lead to “hate speech” (i.e., any speech some people find offensive) an execrable policy, or is it what Twitter needs? Should some people like Trump (who’s already banned from Twitter) be allowed back? Is it bad to have a Twitter policy that allows First-Amendment-permitted speech? As Hitchens asked, who would you trust to decide which speech to allow?

I’ll be reading the discussion, and am seeking edification. I have to say that I’m upset that the opponents of Musk’s “free speech” policy seem to be mostly on the Left, but I may be wrong.

126 thoughts on “Discussion: Elon Musk, Twitter, and free speech

  1. I see this, which is perhap what most do not want in Twitter now … or anywhere!: “Because the First Amendment is designed to further the pursuit of truth, it may not protect individuals who engage in slander or libel, especially those who display actual malice by knowingly publishing false information or publishing information “with reckless disregard for the truth.” So, the courts seem to have regulated against this kind of otherwise “free speech”. I.E., this is another example of … this kind of speech is NOT free speech!

    1. Sid, I think the point about exceptions to First Amendment protection of free speech (and press) go really 180 degrees AGAINST your larger point!

      Since First Amendment protections do not protect certain things (such as what Jerry lists: “personal harassment, false advertising, child pornography, speech that incites imminent lawless action such as violence, and so on”), including most kinds of defamation (slander and libel) , -> modeling Twitter regulation on the First Amendment would also have those kinds of unacceptable expression unprotected on the Twitter platform.

      You don’t want to see wild proliferation of libel and slander on Twitter. Neither does anybody else. Using First Amendment standards will still keep those off.

      1. The First Amendment itself does protect such things. BUT the USSC interpretations of it do not. Those are two separate issues. I prefer true First Amendment protections than the weakened interpretation the court system has chosen to implement – especially given that the 9th and 10th Amendments make it clear that the Constitution is to be interpreted at the very least as liberally as it was written.

        That said, I think it would be difficult for Twitter to live up to those standards of permissiveness, and will be surprised if they give Constitutional standards lip service for much beyond the transitional period.

        1. The First Amendment itself does protect such things. BUT the USSC interpretations of it do not. Those are two separate issues. I prefer true First Amendment protections than the weakened interpretation the court system has chosen to implement …

          The First Amendment by its express terms protects speech only from infringement by Congress</b. (The Amendment’s opening clause provides, “Congress shall make no law … “)

          It is only through SCOTUS’s interpretation of the Fist Amendment that its protections have been extended to the other two branches of government as well as to states and municipalities and subdivisions thereof.

          You sure you want to go back to the true First Amendment protections provided by the text alone rather than the supposedly “weakened” interpretation the court system has chosen to implement?

      2. Which means constant moderation and Twitter rather than courts being the arbiters of what does and does not constitute harassment, slander, libel, false advertising, child pornography and incitement. So…what we have now, just with this billionaire’s overall editorial policy instead of the last billionaire’s.

        1. IMHO, content moderation shouldn’t be left in the hands of social media companies. Doing so is often in conflict with the profit motive. We shouldn’t require companies to be altruistic. Competition makes that virtually impossible. We also want content moderation rules to be applied evenly across all social media. Otherwise, you get bad actors moving to whatever platform is most friendly to their particular kind of grift. I would also like to see the courts involved in disputes over content rules. I don’t want the government censoring but the judicial system would be best at deciding whether something is legitimate free speech or some sort of crime. As I’ve said many times in comments here, I would like it to be possible to sue someone for spreading misinformation. The bar for doing so would need to be set high but if someone, say, tries to steal an election by spreading lies that have been thoroughly debunked, they should be stopped and penalized. Of course, such decisions will often have an element of subjectivity but that’s what juries are for.

          1. This would seem to me to replicate the Chinese model. Strong state control and regulation of content and some sort of licensing system to allow approved social media companies to operate

            1. Not at all the Chinese model. What about “I don’t want the government censoring” do you not understand? The government decides everything in China. I want the moderation and the rest of the rules set by the people as in a democracy. The courts are used to decide criminality and specific disputes, as they do in virtually every other arena.

              1. Courts would decide specific disputes?! Do you know how many posts are made to Twitter per second? 6000. Courts aren’t going to deal with that.

                The government could use court precedent to set regulations but ultimately it will be the social media companies themselves that will have to enforce those regulations. If we say that Facebook or Twitter are legally responsible for the content that they allow then they will moderate the content more heavily to avoid the possibility of prosecution.

                This is how China maintains control, by promising to punish the companies that allow regulated content get through.

              2. That’s why I said there needed to be a high bar for bringing a lawsuit. The details would have to be worked out but there would have to be real damages involved, not just a difference of opinion. Perhaps it has to be a class action suit with a minimum number of participants. Perhaps the size of the audience should factor into it. I know I don’t have that many followers. I should be able to say Biden stole the election without worrying about getting sued. (I don’t believe that, of course.) There might also be penalties for losing such a lawsuit. At least the plaintiffs should pay the defendant’s legal fees.

          2. When big internet companies started to use targeted advertising, it was sort of off-putting. But Amazon or Google scanning my emails so that they can send me ads about farm equipment is nothing compared to the threat of companies doing it for ideological reasons.

            As for the idea of litigating ourselves to utopia, That seems to have potential pitfalls as well. I may have written about this before, but I have a neighbor who loves suing people he is angry at, which is almost everyone. One elderly neighbor has a farm he wants, which borders his property. He has sued her at least six times over nonsensical frivolities. He never wins, and likely has no expectation of winning. But each time he files a suit, the target needs to hire an attorney, which seems to be an expense of 10K or so. You dare not ignore it or go in without representation, because of either a default judgement or worse, being ill prepared and losing. It surely costs him more than it costs his targets, but he is willing to pay that cost. If we had anti-SLAPP laws, this might not work.

            If a political activist organization adopted such tactics under your proposed system, it would certainly have a chilling effect on anyone making a post they might disagree with. And like my neighbor, they never have to win. The process becomes the weapon.

  2. The Quillette article on this is worth a read.

    If Musk aims to make Twitter politically neutral then I welcome it. As the above article explains, that does not mean allowing threats and harassment, but it does mean allowing viewpoints that the woke dislike.

    An example is the banning of the parody account “Babylon Bee” for a spoof article naming Rachel Levine as “man of the year” (after USA Today nominated Levine as “woman of the year”). Presumably Musk will rescind that ban.

  3. I think we know this, but I think it needs to be said – I am concerned with the focus on one corporation – Twitter – and free speech – why?

    .., there is no connection between these two things, only by accident.

    That is, free speech is completely independent of Twitter. Free speech is completely independent of Elon Musk.

    I’m happy to hear Musk assert the importance of free speech. But free speech is mine, just as it is yours. It belongs to the individual – each individual – and each individual’s speech is, to borrow from statistics, identical and independently distributed. (I hope I got that right).

  4. As a non-twitterer, I consider that platform no more than a form of background noise—like the faint
    humming sound that everyone who lives near a highway ignores all the time. If Mr. Musk is concerned
    with the free speech principle, why didn’t he buy up all the universities in the US and impose freedom of
    speech on them, which would really change things. Doesn’t he have enough money? Incidentally,
    what planet does a name like “Elon Musk” come from?

    1. Mars.

      Or ………… he is an African-American, so that name would have to be tracked down in South Africa.

      My other sarcastic comment: Elon Musk intends to do something about that faint humming sound: all electric vehicles, period.

    2. Elon was born to a Canadian mother (Maye Musk) and White South African father (Errol Musk), and raised in Pretoria. He lived in Canada for a period of time and attended Queen’s University. There is nothing particularly unusual about his name. He has a brother named Kimbal and a sister named Tosca. I assume that you are being sarcastic.

    3. He is from South Africa, and his father has several generations there, so I would guess heritage on that side to be British and Dutch. The name Musk is British heritage, IIRC. Elon? Could be many places. Though he’s from SA, he isn’t African American in the commonly used sense, as his heritage is northern European.

      I don’t think he is concerned with free speech, and any meaningful way, but only with feeling important, feeling powerful, and so seeks attention. Yes, he has enough money, and had enough from the womb, as he is as self made as the twice-impeached real-estate magnate. How do you become a billionaire? Be born a millionaire and get lucky. He has, arguably, managed to produce something of value, though, and end up with more money than he started with.

      1. Probably the right time to point out we are all African if we look far enough back.

        As for free speech and Twitter, we’ll see what he’s made of when First Amendment speech there starts criticising, satirising and insulting the Boring Co., Tesla and Space X. It will all be perfectly legal, but it will perhaps hurt stock prices. And it will provide a measure of the thickness of his skin.

        1. You have to be joking, Twitter is filled with people saying bad things about Musk and his companies. It started day one. Musk has often responded to those of substance.

  5. I think moderation isn’t just an issue of legality, but also of protecting the brand. If the brand becomes known as the place where racists and homophobes hang out, it could drive other people away. And if he is looking to monetize twitter, then he will have to please advertizers as well. So I honestly don’t see too much changing. But I could be wrong.

    1. I agree. I just don’t see things changing much unless he’s willing to throw away billions of dollars to turn Twitter into 4chan with a better UI.

    2. You beat me to it. Imagine if WEIT were unmoderated. I might keep reading the articles, but I would definitely quit reading the comments.

      I hardly ever use my Twitter account, so I don’t know if users can customize their way into a readable feed in the absence of moderation. Twitter’s guide says, most relevantly

      Show less often

      When you mark a Tweet as Show less often, it helps Twitter better understand the types of Tweets that you’d like to see less of in your Home timeline. We may use this information to optimize and tailor your experience in the future.

      Emphasis added. So, you may be able to moderate your own way into a readable feed, with some serious effort.

  6. I was listening to the radio this morning, and one of the DJ’s had made an interesting connection. A while back, Elon tweeted that he was thinking of taking Tesla private. The SEC complained, took him to court, and he was ordered that his tweets now have to be approved by the SEC before posting. So this whole buying Twitter thing might just be a loophole to get around that ruling for ‘his free speech’.

  7. The meltdown, which I have attempted to follow somewhat, in media and among the twitterati has been extraordinary. Far more than what I had expected and at times hilarious and also really scary.
    Many of these people are authoritarians and would fit right into Putin world.

    Among the smartest and most considered reaction comes from Freddie De Boer and another by Mike Solana writing for Bari Weiss’s substack.

    Try to open both because they may well not be paywalled and are much worth reading;

    https://bariweiss.substack.com/p/elon-conquers-the-twitterverse

    https://freddiedeboer.substack.com/p/just-keep-it-off-my-timeline

  8. The number of bad takes on Musk buying Twitter is simply amazing. Most of it comes from Musk-dislike and/or Twitter dislike and should be immediately dismissed. One person on Twitter made the claim that everyone that rich must be a conservative. When queried about how much one had to be worth for her rule to kick in, she immediately responded with “$5 million”. Musk has even donated to Obama’s campaign so it is hard to imagine he’s really a conservative. He moved his company headquarters from CA to TX but that’s probably a good idea for a car company with big factories. It’s really crazy out there.

    Musk ought to be welcomed from the Left since the main source of his wealth has been Tesla which has popularized electric vehicles in a big way. Instead, Musk had to shame Biden into even mention his company in speeches about how America could lead the way in EVs.

    The Twitter hate is also amazing. Sure, there’s a lot of ugly speech on Twitter but there’s lots of good speech too. It is a really useful tool. Seems to me that those that focus only on the ugly speech are simply not ready for free speech or don’t realize its implications.

    There’s another group that claims that Musk doesn’t really have the money to do the deal and that it will fall through. Then they go further to claim that Musk has done this on purpose in some kind of massive stock manipulation. I suspect that this group also doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

    The cooler heads are encouraging people to take a wait and see attitude toward this. Makes sense to me. Musk won’t be running Twitter by himself. Even if he implements some of his own ideas, he’s shown the ability to abandon bad ideas quickly. Give him a chance but let’s be harsh in our evaluation of what he actually does.

    1. “When queried about how much one had to be worth for her rule to kick in, she immediately responded with “$5 million”.

      Ha! Athlete and very left-leaning feminist icon Megan Rapino made just over 4 million in 2020 alone according to Forbes. So she’s practically Sean Hannity!

      If $5 million is the threshold, the attendees of the Oscars are about 99% conservative. Hollywood is drenched in conservatives, apparently.

      However, in some way I welcome this approach. Although $5 million seems low, it is actually extremely high compared to the net worth of the average family in the US. It highlights the fact that the true fissures in society are not around race and ethnicity, but socioeconomic class.

      So yeah, I can see the point a bit. If I am barely worth 100K and a liberal, and you are similarly modest in wealth but a conservative, I have far more in common with you than I do with a billionaire liberal up on Mt. Olympus. At least in terms of issues that affect our well-being and those of our families.

  9. I don’t trust Musk. Tesla puts all sorts of legal requirements on its employees to prevent them from criticism. So does SpaceX. And then there’s personal actions of his like “Pedo Boy.” IOW he has a personal and professional history of attacking and silencing his critics, and so I put him in the “pro speech for me, not for thee” category. Which is not advocating or advancing free speech.

    So I am skeptical it will be any more free speechy under him than it is now. It will just be a different set of filters. But, like John Gallant, I do not ‘do’ twitter, so it seems something of a tempest in a teapot to me.

    I think our society really has yet to grapple with the fact that the vast majority of our “town squares” are now private, for profit internet platforms where most people speak anonymously. We really need some thought on how to maintain free speech in this environment. Corporate rights to run their businesses the way they want. Citizen rights to substantive freedom of expression – meaning the freedom to express yourself where society is. State ability to prevent harassment (there is an awful lot of repeated, unwanted personal attacks on the internet. I bet on twitter it happens every second), incitement, criminal planning and organizing, revealing other people’s PII, and other nonprotected speech. These are all clashing right now, and I don’t think we have good answers for how to balance them. There are also internet-specific problems like anonymity, sockpuppeting and bots – all perfectly legal, but clearly not speech the 1A was really ever intended to protect.

    It’s a big mess. Go outside, talk to your *real* neighbor. Whatever power and influence Musk gets out of Twitter comes from our use. So give him less power, use it less. 🙂

    1. I’ve tried talking to my neighbors about things that matter to me but they really have no interest in them. On the other hand, just today Twitter led me to a trove of AI conference videos from the Santa Fe Institute that really interest me. Yes, I know there are some really nasty people saying some awful stuff on Twitter but they are easy enough to avoid. Even when I do end up reading some of their tweets, I can easily let their messages bounce off me. As with a real public square, an intelligent person knows that not everyone is worth listening to. Same with the neighbors now that I think about it.

      1. ‘People shouldn’t let nasty comments bother them because it doesn’t bother me’ is not a valid strategy for dealing with harassment. You understand that that does not even begin to cover why teens get suicidal, or getting ones’ book or professional speaking engagement canceled, or having your account be the target of thousands of messages creating an effective denial of service attack, or things like that, right?

        1. Why would you look to a public square to solve those problems? Are you suggesting that because those problems exist, the public square should be abolished? I am sympathetic to the denial of service case and do think it is Twitter’s responsibility to deal with those. I am pretty sure Elon Musk would agree with that.

          1. Why would you look to a public square to solve those problems?

            When a crime occurs in the public square, we think it’s the state’s job to deal with it, yes? Prevent if possible, but deter, detect, and hold responsible the criminals if not. Do you agree?

            Do you agree harassment is a crime? I’ll just give you the answer to this one – yes it is. In my state, it can range from a class 3 misdemeanor to a class 5 felony.

            So yes I absolutely look to the state to prevent if possible – and solve if not – the crime of harassment perpetrated in the public square. Why wouldn’t I? And why don’t you? Moreover “it’s not public space” is no excuse here. The state is also obliged to address crimes perpetrated on private property. We agree on that too, yes?

            And of course I don’t think the public square should be abolished. What a ridiculous straw man you’ve got there! I think – and I think it is very reasonable to demand – that private platforms which we use as public squares should be free of crime. And while I don’t have a specific formula for how much of that involves corporate oversight of the space vs. government oversight, I don’t see oversight used to prevent illegal harassment, illegal incitement, conspiracy to commit a crime, or any other illegal behavior as any more inimical to freedom of expression than the beat cop on the corner making sure everyone in the public area around him or her is obeying the law. Or the physical workplace rule against harassment, and the corporate oversight methods used to address it. Both can be part of the solution, but “don’t address harassment at all, people should just grow thicker skins” is a terrible response. That’s like 1950’s corporate policy.

            Is your freedom of speech prevented because your corporation’s anti-harassment policy prevents you from following a co-working around bothering them? No. Is your freedom of speech prevented by the beat cop on the corner who stop you from following someone down the street bothering them? No. So is your freedom of speech prevented by a twitter reg or filter that catches harassment? Equally, no.

            1. Perhaps I wasn’t clear. My point was that policing harassment and dealing with the other problems you mention is independent of the public square. They are still crimes and still bad problems that society needs to deal with. I never said anything about people needing to have thicker skins, though I would in some situations. I just wouldn’t look to the public square to solve all those problems you mention.

              1. If by “the public square” you mean the community of users, I agree.
                If by “the public square” you mean the owner and operator of twitter, I strongly disagree.

                Your corporation is on the hook to prevent/solve the problem of harassment in corporate-owned space. Your government is on the hook to prevent/solve the problem of harassment in government-owned space (government is also on the hook to come to the corporation’s assistance, when a problem in their space is too big for them to handle).

                So yes Paul, it is IMO absolutely the case that Musk or whatever corporation owns Twitter, is on the hook to prevent/solve the problem of harassment in their corporate owned virtual space. With the government helping them out if needed. We ditched the idea that the corporation does not have to do anything about harassment by its employees or in it’s space probably 50ish or more years ago now. The days of Mad Men feeling up the waitress is over, and the fact that we now meet in virtual spaces is no excuse to bring it back.

                .

              2. To use your example, Mad Men’s advertising agency is responsible for what happens on its premises only to the extent it encourages or ignores the bad behavior. If one employee murders another, it’s a crime. The police don’t arrest the company but the person who committed the murder. Now if it turns out the company purposefully hired murderers or have a “Thou are free to murder.” clause in their Company Rules, or failed to report murder when they knew about it, that’s something different.

                It is significant that the company doesn’t even mention murder in its rules. It’s a rule that lives at the level of the society. It’s not like one company can permit murder and the others can’t. We should not require social media companies to have the equivalent of their own set of laws and their own police force. Harassment, to the extent it is illegal, should be a crime no matter where it is committed. And we punish the perpetrator, not the venue.

            2. Genuine question, since this seems unclear and is critical to the point you’re making: are you saying that people posting mean replies to other people on twitter rises to the level of criminal harassment, which should be excluded from First Amendment protections? If that’s what you’re talking about, then I consider all of your argument here moot because this is not criminal harassment, nor any sane individuals definition of the kind of speech that requires government intervention.

              Hell, Twitter is a thousand times better than the public square when it comes to hecklers and people hurting your feelings. You can simply press a button to never see replies from a person again, and there are tons of “block lists” created largely by far-Left people that block tens to hundreds of thousands of accounts based on their political affiliation or harassing (AKA being mean) behavior.

              1. The definition of ‘criminal harassment’ varies from place to place – state to state in the US, and country to country. Given the internet’s global access, this makes the issue complicated. But generally, it’s considered repeated, unwanted, and targeted at a person rather than the topic for which the location/forum exists (class topics in class are not harassment, work topics at work are not harassment, etc., but it’s a rare fora where leveling repeated personal insults at someone who tells you to stop would fit under the definition ‘on-topic.’ Maybe a Practice Your Roasting website does that.).

                I would not espouse targeting legal behavior. But there is plenty of commenting that goes on in virtual fora that looks a lot like what I just described above.

                Since there’s probably a lot of gray area, I’d probably suggest low-regret responses to initial or debatable conduct, warning etc., ratcheting up if warnings are ignored. But yes, to your main point, I have no problem if a forum owner or the government receives a complaint from a user (signaling unwanted) about repeated personal attacks, investigates, finds it to be true, and moves to stop future commenting of that sort in that fora.

                I’m going to address Paul’s comment here too.

                Mad Men’s advertising agency is responsible for what happens on its premises only to the extent it encourages or ignores the bad behavior.

                Yes exactly. We agree. But that is exactly what folk like Musk set out to do. 8chan went down in 2015 after the police did a massive bust of it’s users for child porn. The owner’s intent was not specifically to create a child porn ring, but it WAS the owner’s intent to create a forum where he, the owner, would completely ignore and take zero responsibility for the bad behavior of its users. Musk and folks like him are just repeating that pattern to the extent they think they can get away with it.

                Now I don’t think Musk’s twitter would ever will tolerate child porn. But I absolutely do think he plans on tolerating the sort of harassment leveled at his critics that would not be permitted if the cops saw it occurring on a street corner, or your boss would allow in your workplace. I also think that at the same time he will ban people and comments that are impersonally critical of him or his business decisions (such as Vernon Unsworth’s criticism of Musk building a submarine to rescue people trapped in a cave..a submarine which arrived late and did nothing). So he’s not at all defending classic liberal free speech, but rather libertarian pipe dream free speech for the people I like, and no speech for the people I don’t.

              2. “I also think that at the same time he will ban people and comments that are impersonally critical of him or his business decisions ”

                But where are you getting this impression? What specific actions has he taken to make such a prediction so concrete in your mind? Or is it just extreme personal bias toward him?

              3. Also, you did not address the point regarding how easy Twitter makes it to block people, either one by one or through lists that block many. And I still don’t see an example of criminal harassment from any state. A person getting lots of mean tweets thrown their way doesn’t rise to the level of criminal harassment in any state, as far as I can tell. Twitter is not their workplace, nor their home, nor their personal bubble.

            3. > When a crime occurs in the public square, we think it’s the state’s job to deal with it, yes?

              It depends on the nature of the crime. More often than not, crimes in the public square are victimless crimes (jaywalking with no cars around). If anything, the sheer number of public sphere crimes should force us to re-examine what we have criminalized, and why.

      2. “I’ve tried talking to my neighbors about things that matter to me but they really have no interest in them.”

        Similar experience here. My neighbors are interested in the lawn, sports, the sports their kids play, new toys (cars, boats, big TVs) shows on Netflix….and sports.

        I used to think it was just an issue with not knowing them that well, and that they were just sticking to non-confrontational, “small talk” issues. But after knowing them for many years and even with our families going on the vacations together in some cases….nah it’s pretty much those subjects. I never mention now what I am currently reading…invariably they have no idea what I’m talking about. I know it sounds snotty but it’s true nonetheless. And I don’t even consider myself particularly learned or informed.

      3. I’m sure you ignore the nasty stuff as will most other intelligent persons. Unfortunately, there are many not so intelligent people that will not ignore the nasty stuff, but will lap it up. We can expect an uptick in grievance politics fueled by disinformation.

  10. I’m not sure this is central to the free speech issue, but that last Twitter statement is often not the case, and I wouldn’t base an argument on that. The “will of the people” (and which people? all USians? Floridians? citizens of Skokie?) might be against free speech, but other laws might apply (e.g. the First Amendment). Every survey I’ve seen says most Americans want tougher gun laws, but a minority claims those go beyond the Second, and the Supremes have recently agreed in some cases.
    Seems like a lot of laws are based not on the will of the people, but the $ of the lobbyists, as well as legislative majorities (even if not reflective of the overall majority, e.g., US Senate, gerrymandered states, etc.).
    FWIW, I’m not on Twitter and most of what I read on it comes from this site.

  11. Sid Colton (above comment) put a finger on the crux: what is libel in this world? The big social networks are protected from being sued for libel by Section 230 of Title 47 of the United States Code enacted as part of the United States Communications Decency Act, that generally provides immunity for website platforms with respect to third-party content.

    So …. is Twitter (etc) government or private? I contend that — shielded by S-230 — it is not private; it is part of our cartel-like quasi-free enterprise, a blend of gov and not.

    As such, a case can be made the platforms MUST do as Musk proposes: no censorship, since they are ‘gov.’ Only removal of the utter extremes of unlawful speech. Otherwise, let it fly. “Hurt feelings” not unlawful!

    On the other hand, a case could be made for removal of Section 230, after which people could sue the platforms for libel, since they would then be private “publishers.”

    As usual, having half-assed “fluid” regulations results in only a struggle for power, and makes claims on principle laughingly quaint.

  12. Elon Musk has already blocked Public Citizen on Twitter.
    “I hope that even my worst critics remain [silent] on Twitter, because that is what free speech means.”

    1. You don’t see the difference between a block (one person not wanting to listen) and a ban (no-one being able to listen, even if they want to)?

    2. That doesn’t mean that Public Citizen has been silenced on Twitter, merely that Musk (alone) doesn’t want to see their tweets. Part of free speech is not having to hear everyone’s speech if you do not want to hear it.

    3. Is this sarcasm, or do you really think people who believe we should adhere to the current interpretation of the First Amendment right to free speech should also never block someone on Twitter? This is akin to saying that people like me (and, if he’s being honest, Musk) should never avoid someone in real life just because they don’t like listening to what they have to say. That’s patently absurd.

    4. Has he? I could be wrong, but based on Twitter’s all-hands discussion with their employees (leaked yesterday or the day before), I thought they only reached an agreement to have Musk buy Twitter, but that the deal hasn’t actually happened yet. So I don’t think Musk is actually in charge yet, and it’s still a public company under the same leadership. (The stock is still trading, for example.)

  13. Here’s an interesting tweet I found by a Mike Forsythe (I don’t know who he is and I don’t tweet, for what it’s worth).

    Apropos of something:
    -Tesla’s second-biggest market in 2021 was China (after the US)
    -Chinese battery makers are major suppliers for Tesla’s EVs.
    -After 2009, when China banned Twitter, the government there had almost no leverage over the platform
    -That may have just changed

    And this one by a James Surowiecki:
    Musk is taking on $25 billion in debt financing to acquire Twitter, at an avg interest rate of between 4.5-5%. That means Twitter’s going to have to pay $1.15-$1.3 billion a year in interest alone, which is more than it made before interest and taxes last year.

    Either way, the deal needs to close by 10/24, and if it doesn’t, both sides can walk away. There is also a $1 billion termination fee if Musk’s financing falls through. Also, after the announcement, Tesla’s stock dropped by $100 billion- that’s double the cost of Twitter! I think by October, we’ll have a better idea of what this purchase means and how serious Musk is in closing the deal.

    I also agree 100% with Eric above where he describes Musk as “pro speech for me, not for thee”.

    I have mixed feelings about Trump being allowed back on the platform. Yes, he does incite the worst in people, and he can’t stop lying and bullying, but his bluster and unhinged Tweets also remind us of what an unfit asshole he is to be POTUS (or a human being, for that matter). Trump is already on record saying he won’t join if invited back. (Does anyone believe that?) He added that he’s going to be using his own platform, but as far as I can tell, that endeavor is pretty much dead.

    1. That Chinese thing is a whole lot of motivated reasoning that still ultimately leads to nothing. The entire point is moot, as China has control over the entire internet in its borders, and Twitter has been blocked by the Chinese government for thirteen years now. Unless this guy is suggesting that Musk is going to somehow (1) reform twitter to the point that the Chinese government would accept it again, which seems essentially impossible; and (2) that China would for some reason want twitter to ever be allowed regardless of restrictions placed on it internally, considering that China has its own twitter-like website that also conveniently allows the government to track and spy on its citizens.

      Regarding Musk’s stance on free speech: what, exactly, leads you to believe this? What are his actions that suggest this?

      1. “Regarding Musk’s stance on free speech: what, exactly, leads you to believe this? What are his actions that suggest this?”

        There are many examples, here’s what a quick google will reveal.

        At Tesla Inc. and SpaceX, Musk has a long track record of silencing or punishing anyone who goes public with criticism of a project or practice. Workers must sign nondisclosure agreements and arbitration clauses that prevent them from taking their employer to court.

        1. Soooo…completely standard corporate practice?!? Seriously? Or do you think that supporting free speech means you should never demand non-disclosure agreements from employees, despite running businesses worth hundreds of billions of dollars? So many of these doomsaying arguments about Musk seem flimsy and based on scant-to-no evidence.

          It’s not like he went up to one of his employees in a public park and taped their mouth shut because they were criticizing.

          Also, how does him restricting speech of employees within his own companies in a manner entirely consistent with good corporate practice in any way have bearing on predictions of how he’ll treat the free speech of random citizens on a social media website?

          And, since you were answering my question “What are his actions that suggest [his stance is ‘pro free speech for me, not for thee],” how does him taking corporate measures well within the bounds of the law have any bearing on how likely he is to be pro-First Amendment free speech? Even the greatest supporter of free speech in the world who also happens to be the lowest manager at a MacDonald’s wouldn’t allow an employee to yell “fire! Fire! I hate kikes” all day. Literally every form of employment comes with a list of dos and don’ts. The higher the position and the greater the company, the greater the list of “don’ts.” All employment is a contract between employer and employee.

          Don’t you see your own bias in using such examples? They prove nothing.

          1. You seem to be wasting a lot of your time worrying about what I think about Musk and free speech. Maybe you should do some research yourself.

            1. Well, you seemed willing to debate the issue until now. It’s OK to not have a sufficient response. Just recognize that you don’t and then ask yourself why you still hold the views you do.

    2. Trump is already on record saying he won’t join if invited back. (Does anyone believe that?) He added that he’s going to be using his own platform …

      You mean the social media platform that he can’t remember the name of, or how to pronounce, and never uses himself?:

    3. Starting to wonder if that tweet about China was partially based on this: https://www.forbes.com/sites/alanohnsman/2022/04/25/does-elon-musks-twitter-deal-give-china-influence-over-the-site/?sh=2c49733626a8

      Guess what kind of company owns 95% of Forbes? A Chinese one! But I’m guessing that person hasn’t commented on China influencing Forbes, or Disney, or Nike, or John Cena…

      I think this is what’s called an “isolated demand for rigor.”

  14. If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect.

    Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people.

    Is he really that clueless? Or is he just intentionally trying to stir the pot? There’s a very big difference between what people want government legislating vs. what they want out non-governmental institutions. (As a lot of readers here are atheists, we can all recognize our desire to see religion disappear while acknowledging that we don’t want an authoritarian government abolishing religion.)

    I fully support the right of forums like 4chan to exist. It doesn’t mean I want to participate in them. Twitter, as a business, saw an opportunity to create a forum that’s a bit more policed in order to attract more users. As thespartanatheist commented up above, that’s their branding. If Musk wants to experiment with that business model, fine, but he shouldn’t act like he’s some great free speech advocate in the process.

  15. History may not repeat exactly although it is said to rhyme. If you look up fin-de-siècle on Wikipedia it perhaps suggests that the period around 1880 -1890ish was a major political upheaval:

    The major political theme of the era was that of revolt against materialism, rationalism, positivism, bourgeois society, and liberal democracy. The fin-de-siècle generation supported emotionalism, irrationalism, subjectivism, and vitalism, while the mindset of the age saw civilization as being in a crisis that required a massive and total solution.

    Could it be that the Western world is going around the cycle again? The certainties of the post WW2 world, the ‘end of Communism’, the establishment of liberal democracy are all being overrun by emotionalism, irrationalism, subjectivism, and identity politics – and those swept along see that a total solution is needed, one that cannot permit contrary views (including Free Speech).

  16. Is the concern with hate speech or misinformation? Our last presidential election was marked by some pretty dangerous deception. You may be comfortable allowing it free reign, but not everyone is.

  17. The interesting thing is how this will play out in Europe where the laws are different. There are hate speech laws here in the UK and some people have been banned here that I intensely dislike. I can’t see them being allowed back here according to the law.

    I#m honestly torn on European hate speech laws. They seem in part to have been shaped by the European Convention on Human Rights which was set up by mainly British lawyers after the atrocities of WWII.

    I am a twitter user. I have been subjected to libelous harassment and I would sue the people responsible but it is very expensive here to do that and only the rich can afford it. I would win easily if I could only do it.

    There is an On-Line Safety BIll in progress in the UK parliament which will have some effect. Probably not the best piece of legislation if the minister behind it is anything to go by Nadine Dorries is chosen by Boris Johnson simply because she seem to have a crush on him and looks at him adoringly. She is seriously stupid. She recently said the internet was only 10 years old!

    1. The recent internet censorship law passed by the EU bloc that says, in part, that corporations will be responsible for any “hate speech” and can face fines of up to 5% of their total earnings for a given year seems extremely troubling. “Hate speech” is only vaguely defined in a way that seems like it could be abused to nearly any political end as well. I’m curious about a European person’s thoughts on this issue.

        1. So it’s being said. But the law doesn’t say that. And I know that at least in the UK and the Netherlands, people have been prosecuted for tweets that were considered “hate speech.” The point isn’t what the makers of the bill say it’s for; it’s what the bill could very easily be used for. I don’t know how someone can be so sanguine about this.

          1. It’s more a practical matter. If there are no rules, there is hate speech, possibly leading to violence or death. (The “likely to incite violence” is difficult because that means that the people who react violently determine what is allowed to be said.). These days, fake news is also increasingly a problem. If there are rules, there is the usual argument about who determines them and so on.

            Formulating the laws is difficult. France has outlawed islamic face coverings, but of course the law if formulated to forbid all face coverings for everyone (with exceptions such as medical masks, motorcycle helmets, and so on). That is actually the proper way to do it.

            No country has absolutely completely free speech and all have some laws regarding libel and so. on. The question is where to draw the line. Any such line will in some sense be arbitrary, but that doesn’t mean that none is better.

            My hope is that if the law is being used for the wrong reasons, then there will be pressure to change it. Something similar is happening regarding the pushback against trans-rights activists.

            Up until now, people have been banned from Twitter for saying that only females give birth, and TRAs have been allowed to call for the death of TERFs. Although I would formulate it differently, Elon’s “pronouns suck” statement seems better than the current state.

  18. I think Elon Musk has got it exactly right. His is the most sensible approach, for what could be more sensible and uncontroversial than simply mirroring the law—the law of a democratic country? I’ve always thought this would be the best policy for social-media platforms.

    Musk critics who claim to favor free speech don’t favor it at all, since they want to suppress speech they don’t like. If it were up to them they’d have the constitution amended in order to restrict speech according to their particular ideology.

    If a user doesn’t want to be exposed to views he deems hideous, he’s free to use the block option. That should be enough.

    Here’s a great line from Jerry from an old post: “Further, banning speech does not quash the ideas behind it; it simply drives them underground, where they fester unopposed.” An excellent reason to support Musk’s policy, in my opinion.

    1. He doesn’t mirror the law though. If he declared he “allows free speech” in his corporate offices, and the result was harassment, incitement, and conspiracy to commit a crime, the law would be all over him. We wouldn’t allow someone to declare an ‘anything goes’ meatspace and then claim they are not responsible if others used sell cocaine in it or beat on people, either. So if you want his virtual space to “mirror the law”, then you should demand that he, as the owner of that space, prevent such actions the same way he would be on the hook to prevent them in his corporately owned meatspace too.

      As well, there are laws enjoining corporations from retaliation against whistleblowers. Yet many people suspect (I’m one) that he’s buying twitter in part precisely so he can ban critics. Again, not a mirror.

      So if you want a mirror, actually ask for a mirror…meaning all the laws and restrictions that mirror how we treat the first amendment in meat space. But don’t call an “anything goes” virtual space a mirror. Because that does not mirror any corporate or public space in the civilized west. That sort of ‘anything goes’ is more just a libetarian’s wet dream, not actually how civilized corporate or public spaces work.

      1. How are you defining “harassment,” “incitement,” and “conspiracy to commit a crime,” and what makes you think Musk wants to allow that on Twitter? That’s the basis of the argument, and seems like it really needs justifying.

      2. > not actually how civilized corporate or public spaces work.

        That’s a circular No True Scotsman argument; you seem to be basing your definition of ‘civilized’ on how you want ‘civilized’ to work. Other people may consider their preferred systems to be ‘civilized’ while excluding yours. Libertarians will consider something freer ‘civilized’, while authoritarians will consider something less free to be ‘civilized’.

        There is no reason your ‘mirror’ couldn’t be set up to mirror the legislation of an offshore server farm. I suspect, though, that as the Internet continues to fragment through various national/local GDPR-equivalent legislation, each regional user interface will come to mirror the restrictions placed in a particular jurisdiction.

  19. Elon Musk has said two things about his intentions for Twitter which seem mutually incompatible to me – that he wants (1) more free speech and (2) no propaganda. Good luck with that.

  20. Twitter provides a service to its users, and that service is the ability to share tweets with others. How strange is it that Twitter has then said, only some people and only some tweets? That’s not much of a service. The fact that this censorship is seemingly done in coordination with the government, and with a specific administration and party, is unacceptable. The government cannot enlist private actors to do what it is not allowed to do (like search your house without a warrant). Even if it were a case of Twitter merely cheerleading on its own, the fact that there is a blue wall online is very dangerous, as the Hunter Biden laptop story shows. Twitter should first of all not allow content which is illegal, like child porn. It can decide if it wants to limit other content, like adult pornography. I think, though, that they should apply these policies neutrally and equally against all users. If they don’t want Covid misinformation, then ban all Covid-related tweets, because Twitter censors are not in a position to evaluate the accuracy of information, and clearly can’t be trusted to. Personally, I’d be happy to see them allow anything that isn’t illegal.

    1. Isn’t it more in the case of covid say, you are free to counter any rubbish (you deem as rubbish) with your own free speech? No banning anything unless a gross breach of human/animal rights. No one gets to be the high priest of truth unless of course, it is, and in that case it’s not your opinion but a fact. You/me/ anyone would have made the relevant points, you can do no more.
      Twitter it seems CAN be a zero sum game we have to choose to play I don’t as a rule.

  21. I’m firmly behind free speech but perhaps controlling the reach of certain ideas is something worth thinking about. On this website, we often make the distinction between free speech and the offer of a platform. Speech should be free but a platform isn’t guaranteed. How might this be applied to a social media platform like Twitter? Obviously if a topic or an opinion is banned, that’s just censorship. But there’s a lot of other ways to keep things under control.

    One idea is to find some way for the audience to curate the posts themselves. If someone (or an organization) I trust has confirmed some bit of information or thinks some opinion worth listening to, I would like to know about it. I still want enough control to look at other opinions but it is nice to have something validated without spending an hour researching it myself. Perhaps each user maintains a list of trusted sources or can opt to know what those with blue checkmarks next to their names think about a certain issue. Or perhaps with a click I can find out what Twitter’s trusted sources think about it. Free speech for sure but trusted, validated speech as well.

  22. I don’t use Twitter, so I have no dog in this fight, but one point that I don’t think anyone has mentioned is that Musk has indicated that he wants to go after the bots, often Russian or Chinese, that pile into every discussion in order to twist them to their own ends. Good luck with that, of course, but if true it isn’t a discreditable ambition.

    As others have said, his idea of free speech isn’t ‘anything goes’, but ‘anything within the law goes’. Which is what I understand our host would support.

    1. Getting rid of malicious and spam bots could definitely improve Twitter, so the fact that all the smart folks at Twitter haven’t yet done so suggests either:
      1) It would crater revenue, or
      2) is a lot harder than Musk believes it is. (He has a known tendency to mistakenly believe he’s smarter than everyone else.)

      If the reason is 1), then Musk could probably do something about it, being no longer subject to quarterly reporting and the whims of Wall Street.

      I think 2) is the more likely reason. There are “good” bots on Twitter, too, which have a useful function. For example, the Thread Reader bot, which when invoked will take a Twitter thread and reformat it to be more easily read. There are others that you can follow which will retweet anything related to some obscure interest you have.

      So now you have a choice. Ban all bots and decrease the usability of the site for many*, or you’re left sorting benevolent bots from malicious bots. That would be a judgment call little different from content moderation.

      *An alternative might be to incorporate “good” bot functionality into the site itself. Perhaps Musk is leaning this way.

  23. News item with editorial discussion today on Daily Nous:
    https://dailynous.com/2022/04/28/linguistic-society-of-america-considers-free-speech-resolution/
    “Linguistic Society of America Considers Free Speech Resolution”

    The report says: “The Linguistic Society of America (LSA), the main professional organization in the U.S. for academic linguists, is considering adopting a version of the “Chicago Principles on Freedom of Expression.” ”

    “The resolution is sponsored by Noam Chomsky, Sabine Iatridou, Pauline Jacobson, Jason Merchant, Pritty Patel-Grosz, Yael Sharvit, Philippe Schlenker, Tim Stowell, Harold Torrence, and Charles Yang, and is in its 30-day comment period. A ballot date to vote on the resolution has not yet been set.”

    The main body text of the resolution is included in the DN report, and editor Justin Weinberg is fairly muted about hinting at what I read as a somewhat negative reaction.

    To me this sounds like a good move for the LSA.

  24. We’ll see how this plays out, I suppose.

    I’m about as close to a free speech absolutist as they come. But the problem I see with unmonitored 1st Amendment standards being applied to social media is that such sites tend to rapidly devolve into cesspools that many people prefer not to visit. The First Amendment, for example, allows anime depictions of kiddie porn (not to mention good, old-fashioned adult porn itself) as well as the stylings of the likes of The Daily Stormer. Some folks don’t want to be exposed to a steady diet of such stuff.

    That’s why 8chan isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

    1. This is why I believe social media cannot be fixed. Any service that gains enough users to have meaningful network effects will always devolve into a cesspit because some percentage of users will always use the platform to sow chaos. There are no moderation solutions that can scale to hundreds of millions or billions of users without being overly censorious.

      Still, if there is any model that can work, it would require a business model that allowed for revenue to drop. Public companies can’t make decisions that would crater the share price, but if Musk can stomach that, perhaps he can pull something off.

      1. Yes, it’s a conundrum for which no ready solution presents itself. If Musk thinks he can square that circle, bless his heart. I haven’t heard any suggestions forthcoming from him yet regarding how he plans to do it.

      1. He could be against government subsidies but still take advantage of them. I don’t like how some things are run in our government but I still follow its rules.

      2. If taking advantage of subsidies is bad (in return for doing what the subsidy-giver wanted), how can offering them be good in the first place? You wouldn’t get any electric cars or Green anything if you taxed back the value of the subsidies it takes to get people to buy them (or build them.)

        1. Yes, the subsidies wouldn’t work as intended if companies didn’t take advantage of them. One can argue against subsidies but not against companies making use of them. And don’t most of us think that the subsidies are a good thing? I get the idea that industrial policy is not always a good thing but I think we do know that electric cars are better for the environment, right?

          1. For whatever reason, people don’t want to build or buy electric vehicles unless the taxpayers cover some of the cost, unusual behaviour for a private good like an automobile. That must mean they are goods of inferior value compared to the alternatives but that Someone Important wants people to buy them notwithstanding..

            I know only that EVs emit less CO2 in their operation (but not in their manufacture) than cars with internal combustion engines. All else being equal they ought to slow global warming modestly (even if the electricity comes from coal, as it will for most of the world.) Whether this is indeed “better for the environment” as a whole, when netted against the human and environmental externalities of large-scale mining, smelting, and disposal of cobalt and the other “difficult” metals used in batteries and motors is completely conjectural.

            It is impossible to determine if subsidies required to incent people to build, buy, and operate EVs (which they would not have bought without the subsidy) are a good thing or a dead waste of money, since we don’t know what the net human benefit of this expenditure is, or even if it is positive or negative. If the subsidies lead us into further economic dependence on a hostile China as our miner and manufacturer for EV components that will be a very bad thing.

            1. You refer only to the negative side of subsidies, that they distort value. On the positive side, they can help overcome barriers due to lack of scale. One thing holding the uptake of EVs back is the need for supporting infrastructure, charging stations are a good example. The sales of EVs must exceed some minimum for it to be worth creating that supporting infrastructure.

              You also forgot one of the most important benefits of EVs. They use power generated by vastly more efficient means than fossil fuel cars.

              1. I didn’t forget. I pointed out that for most of the populous world the electricity for EVs will come from coal-fired steam, which is somewhat (but not “vastly”) more thermodynamically efficient than an on-board gasoline engine. Some sunny, windy jurisdictions will use up to 30% wind and solar backed up most of the time with gas turbines which are also not vastly more efficient than a gasoline engine, particularly since the turbines have to be kept idling even when the unreliables are perking because they need to spin up quickly when the sun sets and the wind dies, as it does. Outlier places like Norway and New Zealand with small populations, bountiful hydropower, and no domestic automobile manufacturing can easily compel the total adoption of foreign-built EVs and achieve big emissions reductions but their populations are too small to make any difference in global emissions as a result. It doesn’t matter what they do.

                For everyone else, including the U.S., you can, as I said, expect modest reduction in emissions from total adoption of EVs, but at great cost in subsidies to get people to buy what is clearly an inferior, excessively expensive product. (Here I’m assuming/hoping that no American government will dare tell its citizens what type of car they are permitted to drive.). Given that the purported benefits of mitigating climate change will accrue mostly to faraway foreigners in marginal environments and not to Americans, American taxpayers are unlikely to be getting their money’s worth from subsidies to Tesla.

                This is getting to be only minimally connected to the accusation that Elon Musk is a subsidy-harvesting rent-seeker, and quite tangential to the Twitter business. I’m guilty of finding energy much more interesting than Twitter but we should stick to topic I suppose.

              2. “Given that the purported benefits of mitigating climate change will accrue mostly to faraway foreigners in marginal environments and not to Americans, American taxpayers are unlikely to be getting their money’s worth from subsidies to Tesla.”

                Although I’m not a big fan of subsidies in general, this one makes a lot of sense to me. What about US leading the way in this kind of technology? Surely that has value.

                I can’t be bothered to look up the current mix of power sources around the world but surely that is a separate issue from EVs vs fossil fuel cars. We need to move to EVs AND move to renewable and cleaner power sources. Both are separately justifiable.

        2. I wasn’t complaining about taking advantage of subsidies. It’s just an irony I’m pointing out that a “no government” stance doesn’t gel with taking government subsidies. Reminds me of Ayn Rand’s final days taking advantage of social safety nets that she regarded as a horrible weakness when she didn’t need them.

    1. When it comes to politics he’s pretty idiosyncratic (surprise, surprise). He’s donated to both the Dems and the GOP, and withdrew from Trump’s business advisory councils in protest at the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. But also promoted some nonsense about Covid and supported the Canadian truckers protest. He says “pronouns suck” and thinks public transportation does too. Hard to pin down or predict his takes, really…!

      1. I’m not even a huge Musk fan, but one critical mark of a truly intelligent person is that their views on myriad topics don’t neatly fall into any one camp. Anyone who can think for him or herself shouldn’t have opinions across all political topics that completely conform to a specific political tribe.

        1. “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.”

          — F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Crack-Up”

          1. Riffing off of Aristotle in his Metaphysics there: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

  25. I feel like we’re too focused on what Elon Musk will do in relation to the US, which has laws and oversight in some regards, but we’re ignoring how important moderation of free speech on social media is when it comes to other localities around the world. I don’t have a problem with people’s opposing points of view, but in many parts of the world they don’t have the mechanisms for checks and balances to reel in those opposing views when they spiral out of control and become dangerous (e.g. violence against minorities). I haven’t heard Elon Musk indicate that he understands anything about the peril of social media beyond the American bubble.

    1. I think Musk hinted that he intended Twitter to follow laws in the rest of the world, not just US. He’s also a smart guy who does business all over the world and wasn’t even born in the US. The idea that he’s just forgotten about the rest of the world is silly, IMHO.

  26. It used to be a common saying that the Puritans came to the new world for religious freedom. But for the Puritans, religious freedom meant that they had the power to punish people who did not share their views. They could not feel that they were free to exercise their religion unless they could put people in stocks for having sleeves the wrong length, or holding hands, etc.
    That may not be completely historically accurate, but it sort of reflects the woke view on free speech. They cannot be truly free unless they can silence those who they feel might disagree with them.

    So to them, just the possibility of losing even a little control over public discourse would be just as bad as actually imposing fascism. If you are free to say that you believe boys and girls are different, their rage is not really because of any actual impact your words might have. They are apoplectic because they do not get to control your speech and thoughts. Or that is my impression, anyway.

  27. With the exception of people who have actually something decent to say (Dawkins, Pinker, selected academics etc) whose twitter a/cs are actually useful, I don’t ever read twitter. And never, ever Facebook etc. Social media is as useful as graffiti on a toilet wall.

    I do read all the comments here at WEIT, however. The commenters here seem self selected to have something useful and intelligent to say – even if I don’t always agree. At least there seems to be an informal standard, assisted no doubt by the boss who, thankfully, curates the crazies away.

    I write a column for a few websites so I’m fortunate to be able to opine and argue there – I even read my readers’ comments below my articles. Because I’m such a swell guy. 😉
    D.A.
    NYC

  28. Assuming Musk is what he presents himself to be, and I’m reasonably certain he is…

    Then good. Hell, this is great! Do you want to complain that free speech has drawbacks? Of course it does. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. But Democracy has drawbacks. Hell, even being alive has drawbacks. But if you think the drawbacks outweight the advantages? Then you aren’t pro-free speech. Freedom of speech necessarily includes things you hate, or even despise.

    Do you think freedom of speech will result in more disinformation? Maybe. It has in the past, and it could in the future. But what makes you think that the censors will lie any less? If a people fall into ignorance and lies, then at least with freedom of speech, the people will have nobody to blame but themselves, and not self-appointed ‘betters’ who were too rich for the commonfolk to disagree with. I’d rather damn myself then be thrown into hell by someone who profits off of it.

    Freedom of Speech is about more than just the government not putting you in jail. It’s about the free proliferation of ideas. Of people being allowed to make their case, to convince others to genuinely join their cause. When Silicon Valley takes away the ability of the commonfolk to spread those ideas, they may not be firing us for disagreeing with them, but they still stifle that spread of ideas.

    You can’t have science without lunatics who think that Newton was wrong about very small objects. Or crazies who think that all the species on the planet ‘just happened’ without an intelligent designer. I mean, who is this bearded bug-fancying amateur theologist who thinks he knows better than God? We can’t let his ideas get out! They’re dangerous ideas! Why, if they spread, people might be DAMNED from the heresy of them! SOULS are at stake, people!

    If ever you think censorship of ideas is good? Then it’s only because you’re the one in power. You’ll feel a lot differently when the shoe is on the other foot. And if you want a shred of respectibility, you better hold onto that principle when you gain nothing for it. Or you’ll deserve every bit of contempt you receive when you beg for it when you are powerless.

    1. Well put. The one area that I would like to see censored is the malicious spread of misinformation and disinformation. There’s a difference between simply expressing bad ideas and using them as a weapon to cheat people for monetary or political gain. I realize that this is a minefield but we have to do something.

      1. I think we already have some laws against financial fraud, although they don’t seem to be uniformly effective.
        Politics is a tougher issue.
        In both cases, we need a completely neutral arbiter of what constitutes truth. We have a newly established “Disinformation Governance Board” as part of the DHS, to tackle disinformation ahead of the November midterms, particularly in Hispanic communities.
        The person chosen to lead the effort is a political activist.
        I contend that if there is even a slight possibility that those given power to judge our speech, and punish us for it, might come under the power of partisan activists, we would be far better off without anyone having such power. Except of course for the already extant and necessary exceptions.

  29. Unmoderated online free speech is always a disaster and quickly descends into a cesspit of the worst humanity has to offer (See 4chan and the excellent article “The Curse of Monster Island: a four year experiment in unmoderated free speech”). Which means, no matter who is in charge, Musk or some other billionaire, twitter will be moderated and such moderation is almost by definition going to be an expression of a particular editorial policy and brand management. As such it will be subject to the same mistakes and same criticism that Twitter already has. He may reinstate some people and ban others but the overall effect will be the same or alternatively he actually does what he says he’ll do and the platform will die.

    1. In addition to my recommendation to read The Curse of Monster Island I would also highly recommend the Radiolab podcast episode “Post No Evil” which really gives a sense of what these large social media companies are up against when it comes to content moderation. And also have a look at “The Trauma Floor” published in the Verge which looks at the mental health consequences of being a content moderator on a large social media platform

  30. Another strange take I hear a lot is that making Twitter’s algorithms open source won’t help because no one will understand them. I’m sure they are complicated but there are a lot of smart people who don’t work for Twitter. And why wouldn’t Twitter help us understand them? It wouldn’t make sense for them to open source them but then refuse to answer questions about how they work. If they didn’t want anyone to understand them, they wouldn’t have made them open source in the first place.

  31. I haven’t read every sacred word the NY Times has uttered about Musk, but, I gather the august publication considers Musk an egotist. What billionaire CEO or politician has been the avatar of humility? Who is sufficiently humble to satisfy the self-abnegating NY Times? Some economist recently quoted in the Times business section has kvetched that Musk has not considered (the exquisite desires and interests of?) Twitter employees as a condition of his worthiness to purchase Twitter. When has the Times previously held that as a requirement? The Times didn’t seem similarly concerned about U.S. employees when U.S. jobs were offshored during the last couple of decades.

    (So far as I know the Times has not labeled Musk an “oligarch.” Perhaps some nominal comfort can be taken in that. Are there any American oligarchs? Or are there only Russian? The same with “propaganda.” )

  32. I think that when people spread disinformation especially about politics and democratic processes, they should face legal consequences.

    Here are a few examples where I think certain things said in the political arena that are demonstrably false could be prosecuted.

    How about the notion that Obama wasn’t born in the US and that he didn’t have a real birth certificate. Whether or not he was born in the US and has a genuine birth certificate is an easily discernible fact that can be backed up with the correct documents. Once that is established those people that continue to spread the false rumor that he was not born in the US could easily be prosecuted for spreading such disinformation, especially for purely political reasons.

    Or how about the idea that JFK Junior was suddenly going to appear in Dallas for the QAnon people. Whether or not JFK Junior could appear and become Trump’s running mate is an easily discernible fact backed up with documents like a death certificate. Those people that continue to spread such disinformation, especially for purely political reasons could be prosecuted.

    Or even the idea that Biden didn’t win the presidential election. After the proper procedures have taken place in the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate declares which persons, if any, have been elected President and Vice President of the United States, then that information becomes a fact, which can be verified. Falsely spreading disinformation about who is president can now be proven to be false.
    Granted if someone wants to challenge the issue they should be allowed to adjudicate through the courts, but people who maliciously and in bad faith spread disinformation in other ways about who won the election should face legal consequences in my opinion.

    Spreading false information like this interferes with democratic processes, confuses people, and mucks up fair political discourse. What do you think?

  33. I joined Twitter recently for a specific reason. It has its uses if one uses it well. With regard to Musk, I am hopeful but think that everyone should wait and see. He is against specifying pronouns and recently posted the political-journey cartoon where he stays in the same place but is now seen as more conservative because the woke have moved so far “left”. Politically, he seems to be in Jerry’s camp, though a bit more libertarian. Apparently on the day of the Twitter deal he was discussing some sort of rocket-exhaust problem at SpaceX. Remember that Tesla is just something he does on the side.

    Yes, sometimes his comments seem a little unhinged. I don’t know if he has a diagnosis, but he and others said that he might be on the autism spectrum. Wouldn’t surprise me. (Two of my children are autistic.). So keep that in mind.

    He seems genuinely concerned about the environment. He does a lot of things and doesn’t get everything right, but has been known to change his mind without worrying about losing face if convinced.

    There were suggestions that he should use his money to cancel college debt instead. Then it was pointed out that 44 billion is about $100 for each U.S. resident. After the sale, the 44 billion is simply somewhere else, but there were few if any claims for the new owners of that money to spend it on something for the common good. Yes, he is rich, so what? If one thinks that he should pay more tax, then that is something which must be changed via changing the laws. it is up to the government to get college debt and so on fixed. Hoping that the rich will do so is not the right way, and can be contraproductive.

    I’m not a fan of Microsoft, but Bill Gates is spending his money wisely now.

  34. Nellie Bowles on Bari Weiss’s site:

    → Rage at the dying of the Twitter reign: This week, Twitter agreed to sell itself to Elon Musk for $44 billion dollars, and the drama hasn’t stopped. Among the highlights: Elon has implied that the New York Times bought fake followers; has personally criticized Twitter employees on the platform; is chiming in to agree with Twitter’s critics; and continues to share trollish memes. We cannot get enough. If you haven’t already, just spend an hour looking at the man’s output from the past few days and tell me you’re not laughing.

    The White House is furious. Here’s Jen Psaki on the acquisition: “The president has long been concerned about the power of large social media platforms, the power they have over our everyday lives, has long argued that tech platforms must be held accountable for the harms they cause.” Senator Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, announced that he wants to pass laws to control social media company algorithms to promote justice: “We must pass laws to protect privacy and promote algorithmic justice for internet users.” Algorithmic justice!

    It goes without saying that the mainstream media is in an uproar, but some of the claims are wild enough to still surprise. MSNBC host Joy Reid claimed the acquisition is an effort to bring apartheid to America: “Elon Musk, I guess he misses the old South Africa in the 80s. He wants that back,” she said. On The View, Sunny Hostin said Musk only wants white men to have free speech: “So when Elon Musk says, ‘wow, this is about free speech,’ seems to me that it’s about free speech of straight white men.” This was echoed by grifter/activist Shaun King, who said: “It’s about white power. The man was raised in Apartheid by a white nationalist.” The bestselling author Anand Giridharadas talked about the need for “equitable speech” rather than plain-old free speech. Times Columnist Charles Blow announced he would quit the platform in protest. Bloomberg’s Max Chafkin came out swinging: “Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter has sealed his bond with the American right.”

    The Times ran raging op-eds one after another like “Twitter Under Elon Musk Will Be a Scary Place.” Funny how no one is upset that Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post. Or that Marc Benioff owns Time Magazine. Or that Laureen Powell Jobs owns The Atlantic.

    But my absolute favorite was MSNBC’s Ari Melber warning about what might happen with Musk at the helm: “You could secretly ban one party’s candidate . . . secretly turn down the reach of their stuff and turn up the reach of something else and the rest of us might not even find out about it until AFTER the election.” Which is . . . sort of what Twitter already did.

    1. Nellie Bowles did her homework. If some of those attributions seem doubtful you can see most of them here in one place, lovingly collated for us (and perhaps for Ms. Bowles) by Fox:

  35. I’m a bit surprised at the degree and character of much of the negativity in the comments here about Elon Musk, especially on a personal level. I’m also surprised at the misinformation about him on a site that after nearly 10 years of participation I’ve come to expect less of. I’ve always found it very interesting how much hatred Musk inspires from people in all areas of the political spectrum. Many people here seem to be assuming that he is a conservative. I think that is dead wrong.

    I get some of it. Musk is unreasonably wealthy and therefore he must be significantly unethical. Except, despite the plentiful claims I’ve seen no solid evidence that he is significantly more unethical than the average person. The problem is that with such extreme wealth, and the authority of various kinds that come with it, any behavior of anyone of such wealth can affect millions of people, rather than just the few that the average person would impact. So I see the benefit in being skeptical of such people and criticizing them, to hold them accountable. But what I don’t see, in Musk’s case anyway, is the need for the personal derogation and implications of unethical motives.

    So Musk called somebody a child molester over the internet? So what. Is there anybody here who hasn’t done something comparable? Very few I’d bet, at least if we are all being honest with ourselves. So Musk isn’t good in the social arena? He’s awkward? He can be abrasive? He’s got Asperger’s and these sorts of issues are to be expected. I’m not sure people are taking this into account when they evaluate him based on his tweets and other social interactions.

    And all these aspersions and claims about his accomplishments, or lack thereof. If you disagree up front that electric cars are not a good thing, and that the capabilities necessary to open the door to routine space utilization (cheap and abundant launch capabilities) is not a good thing, well then I can see that you would view what Musk has been doing as unfavorable, and that would make sense. I disagree with you completely, actually I think you are straight up wrong on both counts, but you are making sense. However, claims like Musk didn’t have anything to do with the technical aspects of these endeavors, he was just the money person, or that he unfairly or unethically built his empire off of government handouts, or that he is just the typical greedy big business scumbag doing whatever it takes to maximize his personal wealth and power, these are all demonstrably wrong and the data for you to see that is readily available on the internet.

    Musk is dangerous because he is so wealthy, and should be scrutinized and criticized. However, he has already done, and is continuing to do, several very significant things that were very difficult to do and that almost certainly will be of significant benefit to all of us. And each of this things were very high risk, as in they were extremely difficult technical and business problems. And his stated goal from very early on, before any success with Tesla and SpaceX, was to better the lot of society. And he also stated from the very earliest days that his goal was not monopolies in these things but to instigate competition in order to expand the market. And his actions back that up. For one example, in 2014 and again in 2019 he had Tesla make all of their patents available for anyone to use for free.

    What will Musk do with Twitter? Only time will tell. However, so far I see little reason to suppose he has unethical ulterior motives for buying twitter. Based on his past behavior I think it is probable that he genuinely wants to make twitter a better place. Whether his ideas about how to do that will work, I’ve no idea. But I see little reason to doubt that what he wants it to be, what he supposes “better” would look like, is bad. Naïve? Maybe. Many people above say it’s a nearly impossible problem. Could be, so is making a new electric car company and a new launch provider company successful. In any case I don’t see how he could do any worse. Frankly most of the dire prognostications about this, like in the excerpts Jerry quoted above, sound ludicrous to me.

    1. Well put. I have seen so many ridiculous tweets about how Musk never really created anything. Even if he wasn’t at Tesla or SpaceX on day one, he has led both those companies to greatness. How do they explain all the Teslas we see on the road? These people may as well claim the moon is made of cheese.

      1. Ah, I see now – remember this?

        “Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”

        – from 2012 election campaign speech delivered by United States President Barack Obama on July 13, 2012, in Roanoke, Virginia.

        […]

        The Obama campaign responded that the criticisms were taking the phrase out of context, and the word “that” in the phrase was referring to the construction of “roads and bridges” in the previous sentence.”

        “Source” for the above :

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/You_didn%27t_build_that

        1. I do remember that. Obama was talking about the value of infrastructure provided by the government. Before Trump, the GOP’s platform was pretty much that all taxes are bad. Though, in practice, they were really only against taxes that Democrats liked. Post-Trump, the GOP really have no platform on anything substantive.

  36. People on this thread might find this Substack article by Alex Kantrowitz interesting. He summarizes an analysis by Alex Roetter, Twitter’s former head of engineering, of what Musk has hinted he’d like to change at Twitter. I’ve added my summary of the summaries.

    – Defeat the spam bots. Hard to do but a good idea to try.

    – Free speech. Depends on exactly what the rules are.

    – Paid subscriptions. “This idea is feasible and advisable if implemented right.”

    – Making the algorithms open source. Roetter doesn’t get this. “It doesn’t say, if you are Republican, then you’re banned. There’s just nothing like that.” One obvious benefit of making it open source is so everyone can see that this is the case. Perhaps Roetter is a bit too close to the subject here.

    – Longer, editable Tweets. Sure, why not try these things.

    – New user options for curating their feed. Actually, this isn’t in the article but I’ve added it because I think it’s a biggie. If someone doesn’t want to see hurtful comments, they can perhaps choose to have them filtered by an AI. If someone wants to see all statements validated with news sources of their choosing, they can. There seems to be a lot that could be tried here without it being considered censorship because the user is choosing the options. If they want to dip their toes into the whole unexpurgated stream, they can. And nothing stops anyone from saying whatever they want, subject to laws of course.

    Evaluating Elon Musk’s Plan To Fix Twitter
    https://bigtechnology.substack.com/p/evaluating-elon-musks-plan-to-fix

  37. If Musk consider following “the law” – which would respond to Hitchens’s question – one could ask why the law in the nation where the company is situated and not where its software is used.

    I found a recent interview edifying where the change to institute libertarian “free speech” was welcomed as supporting the local anarchist party – ‘finally we get some love’.

  38. Suppose two options: Responsible Content, and Anything Legal Goes, user’s choice. The algorithm to winnow what’s not responsible would of course be the tricky part. My hope: the vast majority would choose RC not ALG, and non-RC would dwindle.

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