I’ve been on Twitter since 2013, but have never gelled with it, so to speak. Twitter is for short conclusions and images to be assimilated within split seconds. I make long arguments and images to be slowly digested. I’ve learned to appreciate it more recently, because of my failed attempt to break into the NFT marketplace, which requires one be an active presence on Twitter. But in just a few months there I managed to get myself banned once, to possibly be permanently shadow-banned, and otherwise to have been virtually killed off. Nevertheless, Elon’s attempt to buy Twitter is the only thing that gives me hope for the platform. That is, of course, if he is genuinely doing it for the reasons he’s given.
Let’s just get out of the way that I am opposed to real hate speech, racism, sexism, and all manner of bullying, which I do not equate with “free speech”. For my defense of free speach, and what it is in some detail, see my article of 2017: The Argument for Free Speech & Against Censorship. My opening sentence is worth repeating:
Free speech is a truce between all the different groups with their competing perspectives, narratives, beliefs, cultures, convictions, and even ideologies. Everyone is allowed to have their opinion, and nobody is allowed to silence anyone else.
His stated reason for wanting to buy Twitter is to restore it be being a public forum free of opportunistic censorship, if it ever was one. In so doing, he would create the largest and most powerful space for open dialogue on the planet. This is at a time where censorship is on the rise in the West, and average people are afraid to express their true opinions on a range of topics.
I just checked my Twitter feed to see if any of my “tribe” are discussing the possibility of Elon buying Twitter. Nope! They are not! Apparently it is not a topic of interest on Twitter. Or, more probably, they are afraid to say anything. I’m not saying they are trembling in fear, but just that they don’t want to stick their necks out. If they back Musk, and Twitter rejects his offer, than they may find themselves an enemy of the company, in which case there may be repercussions. We need to make friends with the algorithm, and give it sacrifices, if we want to have a platform or even a presence.
If people are afraid to even discuss the prospect of Elon taking over Twitter, that is an argument in favor of him doing so. People should not be afraid of voicing their opinions on a platform that is ostensibly a digital public square designed to allow people to share and debate their views.
We know that many people, including former president Trump, have been banned from Twitter. People who espoused that covid came from a lab leak, or that Hunter Biden’s laptop was real, or who had ever worked for RT have seen their accounts or their material summarily erased from social media. Conservative wingnuts like Alex Jones to liberal journalists such as Abby Martin or Pulitzer Prize winning former war correspondent, Chris Hedges have seen their content, their platforms, or themselves wiped from social media in an unaccountable purge of inconvenient or unwanted speech, whether it was quackery or honest truth.
Thought crimes, which used to be a self-evident self-contradiction [mere thoughts cannot be crimes] issuing from the science fiction dystopian future, 1984, penned by George Orwell, are now a reality. And the punishment is being excommunicated, or purged, by unaccountable, un-elected, and all-powerful private tech companies.
This has even happened to me. My blog was permanently “blacklisted” from getting ad-revenue, and no reason was given, or needed to be, according to the terms of service. If you are reading this, know that I am not permitted to make money off of it. I was also banned from Twitter for an offense which was only an offense if one chose to falsely interpret it that way, and with extreme bias and exaggeration. No banning of me was morally justified, nor can it withstand my counter-arguments, but the better and more just argument does not have a chance of prevailing.
Now that history has shown us that individuals who postulated a lab leak, or that Hunter’s laptop was real, for example, were NOT purveyors of fake news, but rather making credible claims or suppositions, their accounts are not reinstated, and there is no apology. The takeaway from that is if you get on the wrong side of whatever beliefs big tech is maintaining, you are an enemy to be permanently dispatched. This should and does strike fear in the heart of anyone who is interested in telling truths that are uncomfortable to whomever is holding the true reigns of power. The key to Elon’s version of Twitter (and I will repeat this) is that he not do the same thing, and that people who hold views opposite or challenging to his own are allowed to freely do so.
Elon Musk, who is the richest man in the world, has ostensibly stepped in to crush this stranglehold on free speech, which is also the cornerstone of any functioning democracy, or freedom itself. If you can’t even have free thoughts, how can you have free actions in the world?
Is there any historical example of societies with restricted speech being more democratic or having a higher standard of living? Or is it the opposite, and with greater prohibitions against free speech comes a top-down repressive society in which people are afraid to speak out, and are fully aware of their dire predicament?
The objection to unlimited free speech on Twitter is that it will be used to abuse trans people and other protected classes, and that the bogie man Trump will be reinstated. Not coincidentally, this is the exact argument that is used to justify much of the censorship we see today. If you can brand something as “racist” or “transphobic” or “white supremacist” or in league with the bogie man himself, than surely it is in the good of humanity to suppress such heinous content. Hate is not free speech!
The problem here is that labeling something as “hate” and actual hate are not the same thing, any more than being labeled a witch and being a witch are one and the same. People are being purged not because they are actual white supremacists, or whatever obvious and uncontested evil, but because they are not in league with, or they resist, or challenge, the assumed foregone conclusions of a particular narrative, belief system, paradigm, or world view which is being promulgated by unchecked powerful corporations, institutions, and politicians (and most likely for their own self-interest).
There is the tacit assumption, for example, that if you were not for Biden you were for Trump, and all of the worst things that are true about him, or merely projected onto him. For another example, I think a lot of people would agree that if you are not “anti-racist” than you must be a “racist”. But these things are not true. Just because you don’t subscribe to one set of beliefs does not mean you subscribe to opposite beliefs. One can reject both candidates as unacceptable, and a strong case can be made that “anti-racism” is based on antiquated notions, such as that a person is defined by their biology, in which case there could be a genuinely more progressive solution to problems rooted in prejudice.
I think a lot of people, wherever they find themselves on the political spectrum, would agree that it is not so much that truly and unequivocally rotten speech is being censored, but rather, speech which is opposed to, or inconvenient for the dominant operating power system and its own narrative. In this case, people are being eliminated not because they did anything overtly and incontestably wrong by a fairly applied and universal moral standard, but because they, for example, supported the wrong candidate in a struggle for power, in which the companies doing the censorship are for the other political party (which some of us may find to also be unacceptably corrupt, but perhaps just less corrupt, or corrupt in different ways).
I am quite certain that for millions of people censorship is not being applied to truly heinous speech, but rather to the standpoint of a competing political party, group, narrative or belief system. This is what we would see in any other country that incorporated censorship as a viable tool in its power structure: it would use it to quell opposition. In this case, something which is not hateful in the slightest, can merely be labeled as such in order to shut it down for purely self-interested ulterior motives. We can look back at even very recent events to find instances where people were labelled as “domestic terrorists” for doing things which were formerly protected by the law, or for which there are much more outrageous examples that were lionized by power. Terms such as “peaceful protest” or “domestic terrorism” may be applied based merely on the convictions inherent to the protests in question — and not on the behavior of the protestors — relative to the special interests (primarily monetary] of the ruling elite.
I saw a response tweet to Elon’s own about his making an offer to buy Twitter. The person asked if there would be a safe space for the LGBTQ community. My initial reaction was — though I did not type anything — “yes, you will be safe to say whatever you want without fear of being purged”. The funny thing, which the person behind that tweet was blissfully unaware of, is that they weren’t even concerned about themselves being erased or silenced, but rather being targets of abuse. While it is absolutely legitimate to be worried about being vulnerable to unchecked hateful abuse, it is even worse to not be able to defend yourself because you have been silenced, or not to be able to have a presence at all because you don’t buy into this or that fictional narrative, hook, line and sinker (while also potentially being subject to abuse).
This is where I come into the picture, if you don’t already know. I don’t buy into the prominent belief systems promulgated by either party (I couldn’t vote for either candidate], liberals or conservatives, in which case I am reviled by both parties and both associated groups as an assumed card-carrying member of the opposite group, and hence the enemy. In fact, I haven’t found any group, belief system, or movement that I am comfortable with. I also have no heroes or role models.
I assume that Elon isn’t attempting to buy Twitter in order to facilitate hate speech or to reinstate the bogie man. I’m confident he believes he’s doing the right thing. Rather, it’s quite obvious that he wants to curtail the abuse of the cover of censoring fake news, hate speech, domestic terrorism and other alleged thought crimes for the actual purpose of silencing dissent for the personal gain of already entrenched powerful parties. If he were attempting to take over the platform WITHOUT the overriding motive to guarantee free speech regardless of political affiliation, than a legitimate fear would be that he’d do the same thing Twitter and other social media platforms are now doing, which is to some substantial degree a tacitly opportunistic use of censorship for self-empowerment. In short, he’s just trying to eliminate a double standard.
There is the sort of “hate speech” that is very real and ugly, and I’d want to know what, if anything, Elon plans to do about that. What if people are actually threatening violence, or bombarding someone with insults? Note here that the person who tried and succeeded at getting me banned temporarily from Twitter claimed that he felt “threatened”, which is an absolutely false and preposterous claim by a bad actor! In reality, he slandered me out of his own vehement dislike of the culture and biology by which he defines me. You can read my article thoroughly deconstruction that disingenuous abuse of the system here: How an Ideologue Tried to Get Me Cancelled From Twitter. That said, I don’t consider actual threats of violence to be “free speech”. A complete free-for-all without moderation can lead to trolls spending hours at a time merely undermining substantive discourse out of spite, or worse, sadistically abusing people. And so the big question is, how to moderate a public forum so as to eliminate actual hateful and gratuitous content without succumbing to using that sudductive power to shut down voices that merely, and perhaps rightfully, challenge one’s own position of power, and authority (and revenue stream).
The reason Musk buying Twitter gives me a ray of hope is squarely that his commitment is to NOT censor content based on political ideology, allegiance, or whichever paradigm or belief system he is most aligned with. In short, he is trying to eliminate patently wrongful and corrupt abuses of the power to censor. In such a case, my support only extends to the degree he lives up to that noble cause.
At best, if we are to take him for his word, Musk is attempting to restore free and open speech to the planet at large, and if that is really the case, he increases the likelihood for all us little people to maintain and expand our personal freedoms, and to resist tyranny and centralized power over us. Without that free speech, we are unable to challenge power, and as it is right now, I think billions of people, if not most people, would admit that they feel that they are not safe to honestly speak their minds about what they think the truth is.
I am aware that there is a desperate attempt to smear Musk, with all the predictable accusations that are, significantly, used to shut down challenges to the current system. I haven’t seen anything yet that would persuade me that he isn’t not genuine about free speech, and wouldn’t implement it. But I don’t know the man personally, and he could end up disappointing me. 5 years ago I wrote an article unraveling his claim that we live in a simulated reality, and which I update yesterday: Refuting Elon Musk’s Argument that We Live in a Simulated Universe. So, I don’t idolize the man, nor think he’s anywhere near infallible. I can only say for certain at this point that I agree with his stated mission as regards opposing censorship, and as I understand it.
9 replies on “Would Elon Musk Buying Twitter be a Good Thing?”
Problem is that Musk himself is not for free speech, his recent sacking of a Tesla employee further probes that point.
He wants to own Twitter to be more powerful, that is about it IMHO.
I believe in today’s world two of the world’s most powerful persons are the two who control FB and Twitter. I don’t know how much influence they have in first world countries, but the power of these two platforms in 3rd world countries is immense.
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Firing an employee does not equate with not supporting free speech. Do you have any concrete evidence that he is against free speech?
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Sorry about you being demonetized. Google turned off my spigot in 2010. The days of the internet being the ‘wild west’ of thought are over. Nice piece you wrote though. One of my favorite thoughts on this topic is: “Twitter is a private company they do what they want!” A baker can’t. Parler couldn’t.
Another is that the ones who complain about Twitter censorship the most (Hannity, Ingraham, Coulter) are the least likely to leave! As long as they can continue to promote their books, All that matters is selling books. They also STUDIOUSLY ignore an actual free speech platform, Gab.
“Social media was heralded as an innovation that would liberate individuals from centralized control by the state and power over their speech. It has become the exact opposite: The most powerful tool of information control and speech constraints ever devised.”
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Ayup! That quote sums it up, too. Incidentally, as much as the self-proclaimed “left” annoys me, I can’t countenance the likes of Hannity or Coulter, either. I take special exception to thinking and commentary that is explicitly partisan, and those cats are as much about their party being in control as are their “left” counterparts.
Thanks for reading and commenting!
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I was on Twitter in the early days, when it was a place one could speak relatively freely. If someone got abusive you blocked them. If people tried to pile on you, you protected your tweets by locking them and then blocked all of those accounts until you could unlock. It was great, a very useful platform. I never had any real problems, mainly fun arguements. The problems started when purging people for wrong think started.
On Twitter these days, you are either with the jackboot or under it. All in the name of “safety”. This is absurd. No public forum is or should be expected to be “safe”. It is not safe to speak, never has been, never will be. But what counts is why. If it’s because people might disagree with you or ignore you, then we’re being civilised. If it’s because you might have your life, or some aspect of it, destroyed, then we are not. Twitter is not civilised, that is far .ore important to me than it being “safe” (which it can’t be, by its very nature). If Musk can make people learn to live and let live and be able to peacefully ignore eachother again, that would be great. Unfortunately, that’s not what the platform is intended for, so I’ll be very surprised if any significant change for the better is allowed.
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I’m pretty sure Musk is against “purging people for wrong think”. Are there T-shirts that say, “PURGED FOR WRONG THINK”? Just looked. Not yet. The phrase is so funny on the face of it because it contains its own self-defense.
You bring up an interesting point, which if I understand it right, is that the culture has changed so that even if censorship is absent and speech isn’t controlled, we would still have the issue of cancel culture, and people out on the hunt looking for people to purge who said something that could be construed as offensive, ever. Sometimes I amuse myself by thinking about a parody of the art world in which there’s a hot new show called, “SHUT IT DOWN!” Are there T-shirts that say “SHUT IT DOWN!”. Just looked. And there are. So, there aren’t any for the funny and ironic phrase, but there are for the dumb, unwitting, self-indicting slogan of anti-ostensible-oppression actual oppression.
Right. There’s nothing Elon can do in the short term to change the culture so that Twitter could go back to the halcyon days of open discourse. If that’s what you were driving at. He could only roll back the algorithms, bans, and censorship.
If he rolled back the algorithms, bans and censorship, that would be a start. But we have a significant portion of the population using social media now who have been conditioned and enabled to be uncivilised to the point of bullying others to suicide, and feeling entitled to behave this way. Twitter would have to hold strong through a lot of tantrums and a continuing culture of abuse, just not enabled by them. Eventually, people might begin to re-assert a more civilised culture on the platform, but it’s not going to happen overnight. There is also the fact that Twitter itself would face relentless attacks by the very cancel culture monster it has enabled, via whatever and whoever can be roped in. It could get very dirty very fast.
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Interesting observations. If it happens, and I’m on the platform during that hairy transitional period, I think I may need to keep a low profile. Wonder how all this will play out. At least we can be pretty damned sure it’s not happening in a simulated universe on one of billions of personal computers in the year 2075.
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