from the price-check-on-freedom-on-aisle-7-please dept
Okay, okay, I think this is the last of my posts about Elon Musk’s unhinged appearance at the DealBook Summit with ill-prepared interviewer Andrew Ross Sorkin. We already covered his cursing out advertisers, while predicting that “earth will judge” them, as well as his statement that AI copyright lawsuits don’t matter because “Digital God” will be here before it’s over, but I also wanted to cover one more exchange, in which Musk effectively says that only those who give him money deserve “free speech” (his definition of free speech).
Again, Sorkin does a terrible job of setting up the question, so I’ll do what he should have done and explain the context. Sorkin is asking about a few times recently where ExTwitter has fiddled with the knobs to punish sites Elon appears not to like. In September, it was reported that one of those sites was the NY Times, and the process began in July, whereby something changed at ExTwitter so that NY Times’ tweets were suppressed in some manner (what some might call “shadow banned,” even though that term’s meaning has changed over time).
Since late July, engagement on X posts linking to the New York Times has dropped dramatically. The drop in shares and other engagement on tweets with Times links is abrupt, and is not reflected in links to similar news organizations including CNN, the Washington Post, and the BBC….
Now, remember, nonsense conspiracy theories about “shadow banning” were one of the reasons why Elon insisted he had to take over the company “to protect free speech.” But as soon as he was at the controls, he immediately started using the same tools to “shadow ban” some of those he disliked.
Anyway, Sorkin asks Musk about this, and Musk’s response is somewhat incredible to see. He more or less says that if you don’t give him money, you don’t deserve his version of “free speech” (which is the ability to post on ExTwitter).
The discussion starts out weird enough:
ARS: The New York Times newspaper it appeared over the summer, to be throttled.
Elon: What? What did?
ARS: The NY Times.
Elon: Well, we do require that that everyone has to buy a subscription and we don’t make exceptions for anyone and and I think if I want the New York Times I have to pay for a subscription and they don’t give me a free subscription, so I’m not going to give them a free subscription
First of all, what? What do you mean “we do require that everyone has to buy a subscription” because that’s literally not true. Over 99% of users on ExTwitter use the platform for free. Only a tiny, tiny percentage pay for a subscription.
Sorkin tries to bring it back around to throttling, but Musk continues to talk nonsensically about subscriptions, which have fuck all to do with what Sorkin is asking him about.
ARS: But were you throttling the New York Times relative to other news organizations? Relative to everybody else? Was it specific to the to the Times?
Musk: They didn’t buy a subscription. By the way, it only costs like a thousand dollars a month, so if they just do that then they’re back in the saddle.
ARS: But you are saying it was throttled.
Musk: No, I’m saying…
ARS: I’m saying I mean was there a conversation that you had with somebody you said, ‘look, you know, I’m unhappy with the Times, they should either be buying the subscription or I don’t like their content or whatever.’ Whatever.
Musk: Any organization that refuses to buy a subscription is is not going to be recommended.
So, Sorkin and Musk are obviously talking at cross purposes here. Sorkin’s asking about deliberate throttling. Musk is trying to say that news orgs that don’t pay $1,000/month (which is not, as Musk implies, cheap, nor is it worth it, given how little traffic Twitter actually sends to news sites) aren’t recommended.
The correct question for Sorkin to ask here is what’s the difference between “not recommended” and “throttled,” if any, because the evidence suggests that the Times was deliberately punished beyond just not being “recommended.” And, yes, this exact kind of thing was part of what Musk said he had to buy Twitter to stop. So Sorkin jumps ahead (awkwardly) to try to sorta make that point:
ARS: But then what does that say about free speech? And what does it say about amplifying certain voices…
Musk: Well, it says free speech is not exactly free, it costs a little bit.
Which, um, is kinda a big claim. Especially given what he’s said about free speech in the past. Sorkin seems stumped for a moment and so Elon starts laughing and then comes up with some non sequitur from South Park.
Musk: You know, it’s like… uh… South Park like they say: you know freedom isn’t free, it costs of buck o’ five or whatever. So but it’s pretty cheap. Okay? It’s low cost low cost freedom.
So, again, he doesn’t actually answer the question or address the underlying issue, which is that for all the claims that he purchased Twitter to stop those kinds of knob fiddling that he (incorrectly) believes were being done for ideological reasons, he’s now much more actively fiddling with the knobs, including suppressing speech of those who won’t give him money.
The sense of entitlement, again, is astounding. It’s basically, “you don’t get free speech unless you pay me.”