The inevitable Musk Twitter backlash gets off to a faltering start

Those who would dictate the parameters of public discourse are unhappy Twitter is being acquired by someone they can’t control.

Tellingly, the thing that seems to alarm Musk’s critics the most is his stated commitment to free speech. By definition free speech means allowing speech not everyone likes. In fact, that’s just a definition for all speech, since you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Letting the upper bounds of that policy be set by lawmakers seems reasonable but the world is now full of people who think they know better, among them many journalists, sadly.

But the first wave of public attacks on the prospect of a Musk-owned Twitter have been weak. They range from blind speculation, to fear mongering, to privacy concerns, to generic pro-censorship pleas. All these make some valid points but they essentially amount to a call for Twitter to be as restricted and censored as possible. Since almost any speech is determined by someone to be harmful these days, something’s got to give.

The thing about freedom is that it’s risky. We restrict the freedom of children because we suspect they lack the maturity to act in their own best interests but once they become adults we leave them to it, because that’s supposed to be what being a grown-up is all about. This first wave of critics seem determined to champion the needs of other adults they presumably deem incapable of independent agency.

Initial safety concerns aren’t restricted to individuals perceived as vulnerable. The FT reports ‘Twitter seeks to reassure advertisers over Elon Musk’s free speech plans,’ citing the Kraken-like re-emergence of the ‘stop hate for profit’ campaign. If its past efforts are anything to go by, Musk has little to fear from that merry band of censors.

The ultimate seekers of clients in need of protection are, of course, politicians. Since, by definition, they crave power above all else, it stands to reason that control of the digital town square would be a major concern for them. Perhaps prompted by this move the US government is going to make no less than a ‘Declaration for the Future of the Internet’ later today. Meanwhile the EU has been roused to stress its standard huffing and puffing about ‘rules’.

It has long been suspected that social media censorship is influenced by the political tendencies of those who work for the big platforms. Data suggests Twitter has a political monoculture in favour of the Democrat party and it has long been suspected of being biased in that direction in its content moderation policies. This has not gone unnoticed by Musk.

The fact that accounts belonging to people more associated with the conservative end of the political spectrum have apparently experienced a renaissance this week offers further evidence of this prior bias. In their desperation to scupper Musk, some are even insisting that any public comment he makes on such matters should be grounds for the move being blocked. Meanwhile the ironically named Open Markets institute has called on the FCC to intervene.

“The FCC has no authority to block Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, and to suggest otherwise is absurd,” said FCC Commissioner Brendan Car, in response to the request. “I would welcome the full FCC making it clear that we will not entertain these types of frivolous arguments.”

This is just the start, of course. Expect this sort of thing to continue until the moment Musk is given the keys to Twitter towers. However, opponents of free speech will have to raise their game considerably from this inauspicious start if they hope to prevail. They presumably will and the whole enterprise feels like it’s just one impulsive Musk tweet away from collapsing, but in the meantime it should at least be fun to watch.


Get the latest news straight to your inbox. Register for the newsletter here.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.