May 18, 2024

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Actual Free Speech Matters, Elon Musk’s Understanding Of It Puts Free Speech At Risk

from the not-the-free-speech-you’re-looking-for dept

So, look, it’s been quite clear for a while now that Elon Musk has no clue what “free speech” actually means. We’ve covered this point from so many different angles that at this point anyone claiming that Elon Musk “supports free speech” is ignorant or stupid.

Constitutional scholar Steve Vladeck has a short, but useful article over at MSNBC highlighting that Musk’s “misunderstanding of free speech is a problem for us all.” And it raises an issue that deserves some discussion. Because, before this, I’d basically just thought his misunderstanding of free speech mostly just meant that he was making a mess of things for himself. But I’m now realizing it’s a much bigger problem for everyone else.

Much of the article just covers ground that we’ve covered before, on how little Musk actually understands about free speech. And only at the end does it get into why this is a larger problem:

It’s not exactly news that an eccentric billionaire with no formal legal training has no idea how the First Amendment works. But there are two problems in this case that make it newsworthy. First, Musk himself has claimed that one of his goals for Twitter is to increase “free speech” on the platform. If his definition of “free speech” is radically different from the current state of general public (and constitutional) discourse, it sure would behoove him to explain how — and why. And second, because of his impact and influence, Musk’s patent misunderstandings of what the First Amendment does and doesn’t protect (and to whom it does and doesn’t apply), and the actions he wrongly takes (or doesn’t take) in response, perpetuate misunderstandings among those who believe he has some special claim to expertise on the subject. As the Twitter Files document dumps continue, it’s clear that Musk not only lacks such expertise, he also seems wholly uninterested in developing one.

I think this is mostly correct. The fact that Musk has such a completely fucked up understanding of free speech means that no one can really say what he’s planning to do with the platform he now owns. To date, he’s shown no real inclination to define free speech.

But, I’d argue the problems go beyond what Vladeck has laid out here. As I’ve detailed in the past, Twitter was one of the strongest defenders of internet free speech in courts and in discussions with regulators and policymakers. The company was more willing to stand on principle than almost any other large internet company I can think of. The company would fight on for free speech where others caved.

And, the company famously would go above and beyond in going to court to fight for the free speech rights of its users, where other companies would often cave in and hand over information.

It is not at all clear if Musk’s very confused definition of free speech still includes any of that.

So it’s not just that Musk is confused and contributing to the miseducation of the public, but that those of us who have spent decades fighting for actual free speech online have lost a very important ally in that fight.

Filed Under: anonymity, disinformation, elon musk, free speech, steve vladeck

Companies: twitter