Censorship: Twitter Takeover Totally Panics Political Regime of LeftLibDemSocMediaTechPol
grarpamp at gmail.com
Wed May 11 17:58:35 PDT 2022
Five Steps To Save Free Speech On Twitter: A Musk Roadmap
According to reports, Elon Musk is now expected to take over as the
temporary CEO of Twitter as soon as his financing of the purchase is
finalized. It is good news because buying Twitter may prove a mere
skirmish in comparison to the coming battle. Political forces in the
United States and abroad are already aligning to resist his effort to
restore free speech to social media.
If history has shown one thing, it is that it is easier to lose rights
than to regain them. Musk has a product in demand but neither
governments nor many of his own employees want to be sold. If Musk is
to fulfill his pledge, he will need to take five specific steps to
secure free speech protections. Given the interests allied against
him, Musk must move quickly if he wants to not only reintroduce but to
maintain free speech on Twitter.
1. Adopt the First Amendment standard.
Pundits and politicians, including President Joe Biden and former
President Barack Obama, have justified their calls for censorship (or
“content moderation” for polite company) by stressing that the First
Amendment only applies to the government, not private companies. That
distinction allows Obama to declare himself last week to be “pretty
close to a First Amendment absolutist.” He did not call himself a
“free speech absolutist” because he favors censorship for views that
he considers to be “lies,” “disinformation,” or “quackery.”
The distinction has always been a disingenuous evasion. The First
Amendment is not the sole or exclusive definition of free speech.
Censorship on social media is equally, if not more, damaging for free
speech. However, Musk can call this bluff. He could order Twitter to
apply the First Amendment standard that applies to the government for
speech in a public forum. In doing so, Musk would instantly eliminate
most of the censorship currently imposed on the site. He would,
however, have to stipulate that the standards for “government speech”
(which allows for greater speech regulation) would not apply. Twitter
will be treated as “the digital town square” that he has long
2. Restructure Twitter.
Once a new standard is set, Musk must establish how it is
enforced. That will require breaking down the extensive censorship
bureaucracy at Twitter, starting at the top. That move is already
likely as evident in the tearful remarks of Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s
head of legal, policy and trust, to her staff this week. Gadde, like
Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, is notorious in the free speech community
for her record of censorship, including her role in banning Donald
Trump as well as the New York Post story on the Hunter Biden laptop.
Taking over as CEO and immediately removing such figures will have a
clear impact. However, new measures should also include publishing the
algorithms and finally achieving transparency in the decision-making
at Twitter over content. This should also include a full accounting of
any means used in the past to control online discussions, including
throttling or shadow banning.
3. Shift from site moderation to individual filters.
The adoption of the First Amendment standard is not perfect. This
is a private site that can be sued for a variety of postings from
copyright and trademark violations to privacy violations to criminal
threats. Moreover, many sites bar the use of racist or offensive terms
in comments. That is necessary since all readers are exposed to the
comment section. Twitter is different. It can adopt a general free
speech platform model while allowing individuals to apply specific
filters to block racist terms or profane language. Free speech
includes the right to readers to choose what they read. The key is
that the decision can be left to readers rather than imposed by the
company. Just as you can walk away from speakers in the town square,
you can choose what you read. You can also choose to read more
broadly. Twitter can leave such decisions in the hands of the
4. Shift away from ad revenue.
The next campaign is predictable. Liberals will likely target
advertisers to boycott Twitter. Advocates have already shown that they
can prevail on corporations to yield to such campaigns. Many are
concerned that Musk could be proven right that consumers want more
freedom despite campaigns by companies like Facebook to get them to
embrace censorship. If Twitter grows in size and profits it will only
add pressure to companies like Facebook that continue to undermine
their own product through censorship. Advocates will likely seek to
attack Twitter’s profits to discourage other companies from embracing
free speech. Notably, Musk has already expressed a desire to have
fewer ads and rely more on subscription revenue. That will not only be
aesthetically more pleasing but can insulate the site from the
inevitable cancel campaign.
5. Protect against Surrogate State Censors.
As it became more likely that Musk could buy Twitter, there was a
notable shift in the comments of pro-censorship figures. Hillary
Clinton, who has long been viewed as hostile to free speech values,
went to Twitter to call on the European Union to quickly pass the
Digital Services Act in Europe to force censorship “before it’s too
late.” That time table appears to be the Musk takeover when the public
will suddenly have a free speech alternative to the once solid
alliance of censorship among social media companies. Since figures
like Clinton cannot count on corporate surrogates to censor, they are
returning to good old-fashioned state censorship. If the DSA is
passed, they hope to force Twitter to resume censoring material – a
warning echoed by EU officials this week. Congress needs to act to
blunt such an attack on American companies seeking to restore free
At the same time, the United Kingdom is pushing its own Online
Safety Act and recently Musk was summoned to Parliament to answer for
his alarming suggestion of restoring free speech on social media. The
British are assuring citizens to “stay calm and censor on” despite
Musk’s pledge. It is threatening to take ten percent of the company’s
profits if Musk does not censor users. Musk will have to create
firewall or siloed systems for countries forcing censorship. These
systems should post tweets with a warning that these users are being
subjected to national censorship standards while protecting U.S. users
from having their free speech reduced to the lower common denominator.
These challenges are difficult but pale in comparison to reinventing
space travel. The greatest asset that Musk brings to Twitter beyond a
deep pocket and deep faith in free speech is his legendary creativity.
He tends to focus on a horizon rather than the obstacles or opponents
before him. Free speech remains a horizonal ideal but one that is
attainable for someone with unflagging commitment and creativity. This
could be the ultimate “moon shot” for Musk to bring free speech back
to the Internet.
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