April 27, 2022

LeadershipLimited Government

Elon Musk: Free Speech Warrior and Epic Twitter Troll

By: Brittany Hunter

Social media is all about Twitter over Elon Musk’s latest controversy. 

Weeks ago, the billionaire announced he had become an active shareholder of the infamous social media platform, Twitter, purchasing around 10% of its shares. 

It didn’t take long before the news created a stir on social media with concerned Twitter employees voicing their fears over what Musk’s new role as a shareholder means for the future of the platform—specifically, in the realm of free speech. 

Musk, who has often referred to himself as a “free speech absolutist,” has become the antithesis of the woke movement, poking the bear and pushing as many buttons as he possibly can with each passing tweet. 

This has caused a flurry of outrage from people who believe that Musk’s free speech beliefs are too radical, and if allowed to rule unbridled, the Tesla and SpaceX brainchild will create an environment where “offensive” speech will be permissible, and cyberbullies will be allowed to go unpunished— the horror! 

Musk has been outspokenly critical of Twitter’s approach to freedom of expression on its site, and for good reason.

As cancel culture grew in prominence, so did Twitter’s affinity for banning users it deemed as being in violation of its terms of agreement

While figures associated with the right-wing causes, like then President Donald Trump and Alex Jones, were among the most notable banishments, the platform also removed the accounts of many on the left as well. Oddly enough, while Twitter’s rules state that “You may not threaten or promote terrorism or violent extremism,” members of the Taliban have been allowed to keep their accounts active. 

But as the outrage over Musk’s new shareholder status grew, he couldn’t help but raise the stakes. 

Musk further stoked the fires of fear that his vision for free speech online will lead to the destruction of democracy as we know it when he announced his intention to buy Twitter outright, even revealing that he had secured $46.5 billion in funding to do so. 

The Washington Post warned that Elon’s new relationship with the company should concern anyone who cares about equity and accountability due specifically to his tendency to “punch down,” as the author expressed. 

Robert Reich, former U.S. secretary of labor and professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, accused Musk of trying to “control one of the most important ways the public now receives news.”

Political pundit Max Boot even made the overly dramatic proclamation that “For democracy to survive, we need more content moderation, not less.”

What all these critics have in common is the view that content should be moderated and free speech online should be restricted in order to spare the feelings of those who might be offended. 

To be sure, the First Amendment right to free speech is meant to apply specifically to governments, not private entities. Twitter, is not a government agency and thus, is not bound to the confines of the Constitution. 

However, Twitter, and social media in general, used to be a bastion of free speech, where all ideas could be displayed and users could choose to agree, disagree, or ignore them. 

But as free speech has fallen out of favor and more people called for censorship to shield them from content that may be “triggering,” Twitter and other social platforms have cracked down on the content allowed to be shared by its users. 

While the platform may not be under any obligation to allow or promote free speech, it is certainly not admirable that it should work so hard to censor content—a sentiment with which Musk fervently agrees. 

Twitter is the new town square, it is where people go for news and commentary. For true civil discourse to occur, people need to be exposed to a host of ideas, even those that may be deemed offensive by some. 

But in today’s overly-politicized and extremely polarized climate, that idea that was once so important to American ideals is not seen as a threat. 

Twitter was not initially so keen on Musk’s offer, and even instituted what is called a “poison pill.”

As The Financial Times explained

Under the poison pill adopted by Twitter’s board last week, just days after Musk’s offer, it can flood the market with new stock by allowing existing investors to buy shares at a 50 percent discount if Musk — or any other investor — builds a stake in the company exceeding 15 percent.

Musk is not one to give up easily, and he continued to pursue the acquisition of the platform. 

On April 25, Musk and Twitter reached a deal, with the former purchasing the company for $44 billion. 

The “hostile takeover”—as some call it—created divided hysteria on Twitter.

Musk critics are threatening to leave the platform, and some already have

Love him or hate him, Musk’s new purchase has once again pushed the battle over free speech into the spotlight. 

Whether government entity or private, free speech is an important element of any free society. Musk’s social media presence, while always entertaining, may not always display the most virtuous content. 

Musk’s unique and well-situation position combined with his love of pushing the limits of what is deemed acceptable behavior in today’s world is not only admirable, it may just secure the future of civil discourse. 

Only time will tell. But as for now, there is reason to be hopeful that Musk might have just solidified his place as the boldest and greatest free speech warrior in modern history.