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Elon Musk, Free Speech, and Twitter: How Much Free Speech is Too Much vs. Too Little?

In April 2022, American entrepreneur Elon Musk bought the social media site Twitter for $44 billion dollars. This means that Musk now owns the site and can make changes to it. Some changes, like his policy on absolute free speech, have been a source of controversy for Twitter’s users. This begs the question: is there such a thing as too much free speech? If so, should certain types of free speech be eliminated or should all free speech, no matter if it’s of a controversial nature, be allowed?


     To start with, who is Elon Musk? Musk is a wealthy American entrepreneur who is well-known for his innovative business decisions which, according to the article Lessons from Tesla’s Approach to Innovation, include putting his ideas into a physical form to convince skeptics of their potential. He has co-founded Tesla, SpaceX, and more. 


     When Musk bought Twitter, he implemented a few controversial changes. One of these changes was to, as he stated in an open letter to advertisers to convince Twitter to let him buy the platform, “restore free speech”. One step Musk took to achieve this goal was to reinstate formerly banned Twitter accounts, such as that of former U.S President Donald Trump.


     Trump was banned from the platform after accusations of allegedly inciting the January 6th capitol riots. According to the article, Elon Musk begins reinstating banned Twitter accounts, starting with Jordan Peterson and the Babylon Bee, other controversial users Musk has unbanned include ”[...] author Jordan Peterson, comedian Kathy Griffin, and conservative parody outlet the Babylon Bee.”


    Peterson, Griffin, and the Babylon Bee also allegedly espoused right-wing beliefs. This is notable because the unbanning of these accounts may contribute to Musk allegedly, as the article, Elon Musk’s uneasy relationship with the left explodes over Twitter takeover, states, “[...] trigger[ing] an outpouring of admiration from the right and outrage from the left.”


     “Left” and “right” are political terms in American politics, with “left” referring to the Democratic party and “right” referring to the Republican party. Musk describes himself as a Republican. 


     He also describes himself as a “free-speech absolutist”, meaning he believes in unrestricted access to free speech. Basically, it means that anyone can say anything even if it is controversial


     Critics of Twitter’s past system, which was implemented before Musk was in charge, believe Twitter was more “left-leaning” while critics of Twitter’s new system believe that the site is more “right-leaning”. This is because, in Twitter’s old system, the banned accounts were mostly “right-leaning” and, in Musk’s system, the opposite may be occurring. And it may be dangerous for left-wing groups. 


     According to the article, Twitter Thrills Far-Right Trolls by Silencing Left-Wing Voices, Musk has banned “Several prominent antifascist organizers and journalists [...] after right-wing operatives appealed directly to Musk to ban them and far-right internet trolls flooded Twitter’s complaints system with false reports about terms of service violations.” 


     Anti Fascists have held many different political positions ranging from anarchism to communism and pacifism, but are typically associated with the left. The article highlights one notable anti-fascist researcher named Chad Loder. According to the article, Loder’s “open-source investigation of the U.S. Capitol riot led to the identification and arrest of a masked Proud Boy who attacked police officers.” 


     According to Proud Boys Meaning | Politics by, “The Proud Boys are a right-wing, men-only, U.S.-based extremist group known for nationalistic, misogynistic, and transphobic views and violent clashes with left-wing activists.” 


      Musk’s propensity to unban certain accounts could connect to his tendency to hand out blue check marks to certain famous figures, even if said figures don’t want them. 


     What are blue check marks? In the past, Twitter’s blue check marks were only placed next to the names of typically famous, verified figures to show that said figure’s account was real. But, now that Musk is in charge, the blue check marks are available to literally anyone willing to pay eight dollars a month. This subscription service is called “Twitter Blue.” 


      If the user is a famous figure, Musk will sometimes hand out the blue check marks himself, as was the case with Stephen King. Despite the fact that King has expressed his disinterest in Twitter Blue, he got it anyway. 


     On April 20, King tweeted the following: 




     My  Twitter  account  says  I’ve  subscribed  to  Twitter  Blue.  I  haven’t.

     My  Twitter   account  says  I’ve  given  a  phone number.  I  haven’t. 


     Musk Tweeted the following response: 




     You’re welcome namaste [yellow prayer hands–aka high-five–emoji]


     King would later go on to tweet a request that Musk give his blue checkmark to charity. 


     Musk’s response to King’s initial tweet isn’t unusual. Musk is popular among the mainstream media for his highly energetic tweets and casual online interactions with others. One example of his casual yet energetic replies is his April 6 tweet, which was a reaction to critics’ reception of the Super Mario Bros. (2023) movie: 




     Wow! The critics are so disconnected from reality! 


     Other than a slightly tongue-in-cheek response, Musk’s response to King could be an indicator to consequences for refusing Musk’s requests. It could also be a way of taking away choice from certain users. According to the article, Twitter Thrills Far-Right Trolls by Silencing Left-Wing Voices, the now-suspended Twitter account, CrimethInc, had this to say about Musk: “Musk’s goal in acquiring Twitter had nothing to do with ‘free speech’ — it was a partisan move to silence opposition, paving the way for fascist violence[.]” 


     Elon Musk is a very interesting, if divisive, individual. His stances on free speech may prove to be controversial, and his actions condoning absolute free speech (like unbanning and banning certain accounts which may vary depending on their political affiliation) even more so. Whatever Musk’s actions indicate, hopefully they don’t bring too much harm to users.


     Edited by: Mary May


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Tags: #twitter #freespeech #elonmusk


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