December 7, 2022

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The Legal System

Twitter Users Roast Elon Musk’s Definition of ‘Free Speech’

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Elon Musk

Hannibal Hanschke, Getty

As debate and speculation swirled this week regarding what Twitter might look like under Elon Musk’s control, the eccentric billionaire explained to the masses, in a tweet, of course, his understanding of free speech. Critics were quick to pounce.

Musk wrote:

By “free speech”, I simply mean that which matches the law.

I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law.

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.

Critics were quick to pick apart the opaque statement with a variety of arguments.

Author Jillian C. York argued that under Musk’s definition a company like Twitter has the right to police its own platform in any way it sees fit. She wrote:

It’s called the First Amendment and it’s what gives companies the right to curate their platforms as they see fit.

“So why aren’t you defending Disney? Why aren’t you protesting book bannings?” responded the popular account Machine Pun Kelly.

“This position is idiotic and profoundly dangerous, particularly in the US, where legal limits on speech are almost non-existent. This model leads to harassment, abuse, threats, Nazi propaganda and direct hate speech protected on the platform. It is wrong,” wrote Tom Coates.

“Hate speech is literally protected by US law. The government is not able to intervene to set rules about it. If that’s the standard he wants to use, this place will be a hotbed of bigotry in months,” Coates added.

Others noted that Musk’s definition will be difficult to enforce for a multinational corporation.

“I wonder if Elon knows there are different countries with different laws. Excited to find out!” wrote ABC reporter Ariel Bogel.

Others noted Musk’s position isn’t really free speech so much as its government-regulated speech. Bloomberg columnist Tim O’Brien noted:

Synopsis of this take: By “free speech” I mean whatever the government decides free speech should be, and private platforms should follow suit.

“This is the intellectual equivalent of a train wreck,” noted Justin Hendrix of the inherent contradictions in Musk’s definition.

CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan jested, “On the first day of maybe owning a social media company soon, man begins to realize how hard it is to own a social media company.”

The New York Times’s Kevin Roose noted Musk’s approach has been tried before, but failed. “Fun fact: a website called 8chan tried this exact “we only censor illegal speech” approach just a few years ago! Worked out great!” wrote Roose of the now defunk site that was linked to white supremacism, neo-Nazism, the alt-right and child pornography as a result of its no limits approach to content moderation.

Others took to Twitter to defend Musk. Right-wing radio host Monica Mathews wrote, “Sane people knew what you meant.”

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