Elon Musk’s free speech push is easier tweeted than done. And he seems to know it


Elon Musk wants to “save” Twitter. In an astounding ‘philanthropic’ gesture, Elon Musk has offered to buy the popular social media platform for $44 billion. And, after initially rebuffing him, Twitter has agreed to be sold. In case you’ve missed the details of how the maverick entrepreneur and absolute free speech advocate left the tech world in shock, here’s what has happened in the last few weeks:

  • On April 4, just days after saying he was giving “serious thought” to building a new social media platform, Elon Musk disclosed that he had picked up a 9 per cent stake in Twitter.
  • Subsequently, Twitter offered Elon Musk a seat on the company’s Board, an offer the Tesla and SpaceX CEO rejected.
  • On April 14, Elon Musk “made an offer”. He offered to buy Twitter for $54.20 per share, a rate substantially higher than the company’s average stock price.
  • A week later, Elon Musk showed he was dead serious about his Twitter purchase bid, which many in the tech and business world had dismissed as unachievable and impractical. Musk announced that he had raised the required funding to buy Twitter.
  • A few days later, the Twitter Board bowed to shareholder pressure and signed off on a $44 billion all-cash deal — exactly the amount Elon Musk had offered.

FREE SPEECH

In its nearly decade-long existence as a publicly listed company, Twitter has rarely brought in profits and business pundits have for long highlighted that it is near-impossible for the company to deliver financial gains.

So, then why is Elon Musk buying Twitter? The answer, to quote Musk, is: “Twitter has extraordinary potential. I will unlock it.”

elon musk tweet apr25

Elon Musk believes in Twitter’s “potential to be the platform for free speech around the globe” (emphasis added). “I believe free speech is a societal imperative for a functioning democracy. However, since making my [initial] investment I now realize the company will neither thrive nor serve this societal imperative in its current form. Twitter needs to be transformed as a private company,” Musk wrote in his letter to Twitter while making his offer to purchase the platform.

The intent is clear. Elon Musk has long been critical of Twitter’s content moderation policies. Musk would much rather prefer that Twitter follow the form of free speech that he advocates: absolutist (read more about the concept here).

IS THAT A PROBLEM?

Absolute free speech has been a matter of debate for ages. In fact, the debate has been raging since much before companies like Twitter and Facebook were founded. Elon Musk’s bid for Twitter has once again revived that debate, in more ways than one.

Take a look at Elon Musk’s April 27 tweet that seems to have gone under the radar of most. In that tweet, which came a day after Twitter agreed to be sold, Musk said, “By ‘free speech’, I simply mean that which matches the law. I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law.”

elon musk tweet apr27

“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,” Musk continued.

AND THERE LIES THE PROBLEM

Human beings don’t come with an innate set of “laws” governing their lives. What we have instead are laws framed by governments, democratically elected or not.

So then, in his April 27 tweets, what set of laws is Elon Musk talking about? Since he mentions “the will of the people”, we can safely assume they will be from one of the over 150 democracies of the world.

But which one? Elon Musk’s and Twitter’s home country of the United States? Or Norway, which ranked first on The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2021 democracy index? Whatever country it is, isn’t that problematic? Who will choose the country? And, can the “will of the people” of one nation be applied to all the regions where Twitter operates?

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

– Elon Musk on April 27

The other option is to dial up or dial down how much free speech Twitter users get on the platform depending on the country from which they are tweeting. That, however, flies right in the face of Elon Musk’s much-revered policy of absolute free speech.

With his April 27 tweet, Elon Musk — knowingly or not — has simply underlined how tricky it is to implement absolute free speech. It is easier tweeted than done.

It’s quite a bind to be in and Elon Musk isn’t explaining himself, choosing instead to go on a shitposting spree on Twitter that has included a promise to bring “cocaine back” into Coca-Cola. That too, by the way, is easier tweeted than done.

Read the full article at: indiatoday.in


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