Stop Saying Elon Musk ‘Supports Free Speech.’ He Appears To Be Actively Against That

from the come-on,-don't-be-ridiculous dept

I’ve been trying to explain this in all sorts of ways: Elon Musk’s understanding of free speech does not have anything to do with actual free speech. And, for the most part, it seemed that people who understand this stuff got that. But I remain surprised at how many otherwise intelligent people seem to be extraordinarily confused by it, and continue to falsely insist that Musk “supports free speech.” I’ve seen it a few times now from people who I know for sure know better, and it leaves me perplexed that they’re misrepresenting it. In this case, I’m going to call out famed venture capitalist Marc Andreessen.

I should note that I quite frequently agree with Marc on many things regarding both innovation and policy, and I find that I learn a lot when listening to his ideas. Indeed, this post is somewhat in response to his appearance on Russ Roberts’ Econtalk podcast, where I agreed with almost everything Marc was saying about innovation.* I also know that Marc, at times, reads Techdirt, and once even told people at his firm, A16Z, to read my posts on Section 230 (which resulted in three separate A16Z employees reaching out to tell me). Of course, he also blocks me on Twitter, so his feelings towards my writing apparently vary with the seasons.

Anyway, as noted, there was plenty of interesting stuff in the interview, but at the very end Russ asks him about Elon Musk and the Twitter takeover, and it’s important to note here that Marc’s firm has pledged $400 million towards Musk’s deal, even as Marc himself sits on the board of Twitter competitor Facebook. But his answer to Russ’s question just struck me as bizarrely wrong, especially from someone who historically always seems to have a lot more nuance in his thoughts.

Roberts: Tell me what you think of this brouhaha, to use a very brick-and-mortar word, over a very rich man, buying a very important information source called Twitter. And then making different rules than the rules they’re making, and maybe different rules than the government’s rules and what are your thoughts on that? You’ve been writing a lot of interesting things on Twitter about it.

Andreessen: Yeah, well I will start by saying something I know will shock you: this is not the first rich man in history to buy a critical information source. [Laughter] In fact, there’s a rather long history of this kind of thing happening, and, in fact, virtually every information source we have today, there’s a very rich person at the head of it who either owns it or controls it, so you know, starting with the Sulzbergers and working your way through the hierarchy. 

So, on the one hand there’s a bit of a crocodile tears thing happening where people… I guess the Casablanca thing where people are “shocked” by the gambling happening in the casino. Yes, rich people are going to buy things, including these things.

Obviously, that is not what people are upset about.  People are upset that he is pro free speech. And we live in this — to me — completely bizarre moment where the good among us have decided that free speech is not good, but bad.  And that someone who is staunchly pro free speech is, therefore, bad. 

And in my view, it’s this extraordinary ethical and moral regression, you know, that’s kinda happened over the last ten years. And it’s been almost completely not talked about, because the people who talk about such things are in on it. You know, there’s a part of it. Nobody’s advocating for speech restrictions more than journalists, which is just a completely bizarre turn of events. 

Roberts: Yes.

Andreessen: Here you have a guy, I mean, we’re both 50. We happen to be the exact same age. You know, I won’t speak for him. I’ll just say that it was completely normal for like kind of well-intentioned liberals of our generation to consider the classic ACLU view on free speech, which is “free speech is good” and it’s encoded into the Constitution for a reason, and it’s deeply entrenched in our culture for a reason, and it’s incredibly valuable and that basically all social progress from all recorded history has come from people being able to express themselves and that these are very hard won, both legal and cultural rights that people have. And so, it’s inspiring. It’s inspiring to have a guy like that step up and say, look, I not only believe this, but I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and do something about it.

So I don’t know anything beyond what he’s said publicly, but in public, he’s been very strong on this so far and I think it’s great.

So, right, almost all of that is utter nonsense. First up, beyond claiming that he is for free speech (and perhaps donating a few million to the ACLU), Musk has shown zero indication that he is actually for free speech, and his actions have suggested quite the opposite. Leaving aside that it just came out that he had a woman who accused him of sexual misconduct agree to an ironclad NDA (which is not very free speechy), over and over again Musk has indicated that he is not at all actually interested in free speech. Let’s just discuss a few of the ways that is clear:

  1. He gave a full-throated endorsement to the EU’s Digital Services Act, an internet regulation plan that actual free speech defenders have called out as an attack on free expression and human rights. Twitter had been among the most vocal companies pointing out the problems of the DSA, including the issues with its anti-free speech “delete first” approach. And Musk immediately endorsed it.
  2. While he keeps insisting that he is for free speech, and whatever he means by that, whenever he needs to get towards specifics, it’s about how he will take down speech: namely his insistence that he has to get rid of spammers and bots on the site (though he seems to imply all bots are spam or scams, but that’s not true). Again, spam is actually the number one reason why we need content moderation. If you do none, then your platform fills up with garbage. Musk has similarly said that he plans to get rid of “bad” and “wrong” content on the site, but leave the rest. Which, you know, is kind of how all content moderation works, and something Twitter has spent a tremendous amount of effort trying to get right in a manner that actually enables more free speech on the site. If anyone should understand this, it should be Andreessen, who is on Facebook’s board and has seen that company go through a similar process.
  3. Musk has a long and fairly detailed history of silencing or punishing people who say things that are inconvenient for his self-image. We’ve already mentioned the flight attendant on his plane and the NDA, but reporters digging into Tesla have found that he uses NDAs to silence people all the time, and those NDAs are ridiculously broad. He’s also fired union organizers at Tesla. Tesla fired an engineer for social media postings that highlighted problems with Teslas. His lawyers at Tesla have threatened to sue critical users on social media. He threatened to sue an online critic to the point that they would no longer write about Tesla. He has tried to drag critical journalists into court. He even banned a journalist from buying a Tesla because of mild criticism about a Tesla launch event starting late. Then there’s the employee who emailed Musk to complain about sketchy contracts and was forced to resign and later accused of criminal behavior. And how can we forget the truly bizarre story of an attempt to frame a whistleblower employee who the company had already sued for $167 million. Musk’s repeated behavior does not suggest someone who “believes in free speech.” It suggests someone who is eager to stifle speech that is critical of him.
  4. Just this weekend, Musk happily met with Brazilian authoritarian leader Jair Bolsanaro, where it is said they “discussed free speech.” I would assume, by that, they mean things like Bolsanaro’s executive order barring Twitter from removing any pro-Bolsanaro disinformation or harassment, and not Bolsanaro’s long history of suppressing speech of the media and his critics.

Similarly, while I’m sure you could find some reporters who are against free speech if you looked, I do not think it’s even remotely accurate to suggest that reporters who are focused on the social media or political beat are “advocating for speech restrictions,” let alone being the most vocal in doing so. And, really, I mean, every few weeks we seem to get the media elite whining about the exact opposite, whether it’s Harper’s ridiculous letter on cancel culture or the NY Times’ silly and ahistorical whine about how free speech includes “the right to speak… without fear of being shamed or shunned.”

People in the media are also the ones who are out there all the time facing down a long string of censorial lawsuits, sometimes even those filed by Andreessen’s acquaintances.

Look, free speech is a complicated subject, especially with regards to social media and content moderation. But it’s the wider internet that is the enabler of free speech. It’s what allows anyone to create their own websites or their own web services. It’s what allows anyone to create their own offerings and to give more people the ability to have a voice. Andreessen’s own efforts in creating, and later popularizing, the first graphical web browser really was a huge step towards enabling more free speech around the globe.

But it’s beyond ridiculous for someone in Andreessen’s position, and with his background and knowledge, to claim that Musk somehow “believes in free speech” and that the media “does not.” The people who are concerned about Musk’s approach to Twitter, for the most part, are not “upset that he’s pro-free speech.” They’re concerned that he doesn’t seem to have a clue about how free speech actually works, the he has a long history of retaliating against critics who use their speech, and that the kind of “free speech” he has suggested there needs to be more of on the site is the kind where people are harassing others, and they believe Twitter actually enables significantly more free speech when it has in place some very minimal policies (certainly a lot less stringent than Facebook) that try to keep harassment off the platform.

* The one other exception, though, was the weird bit where Marc mocked California for giving him $800 in gasoline tax relief for having two cars — something he insists multiple times that he actually received, despite the fact that, while it was proposed by the Governor, it has not actually happened yet and is facing pushback from the legislature.

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Comments on “Stop Saying Elon Musk ‘Supports Free Speech.’ He Appears To Be Actively Against That”

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This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Its also important to note that, while defenders claim Musk was looking to engage in charity by providing internet access to brazil, Starlink can not profitably operate in rural brazil. It would require an entirely new wave of satellites, and Starlink is going to go bankrupt unless musk can find new funding, and rural Brazil is not known for being an area that can afford the $1000+/year costs necessary to provide an ROI on the infrastructure outlay.

Brazil is simply a way to try to get additional government funding as the real world starts to creep into Musk’s pipe dream that Starlink is in a trillion dollar market that can support the infrastructure costs.

Musk cant deliver on promises to provide internet to rural brazil. A nearly bankrupt company whose satellites are failing much faster than expected does not have the money to subsidize an entire fleet of satellite launches for charity. Any claims that his talks with Bolsanaro were about charitably providing internet to Brazil run right into the fact that his claims of providing internet to rural Brazil are lies as big as his claim he had functioning solar roof titles (he never had working solar roof tiles, any time he showed them they were props, not even prototypes, props.)

Musk went there for money, and Musk will give the guy with the money, Bolsanaro, what Bolsanaro asks for in return.

Anonymous Coward says:


It’s about politics.

Or it could just be a simple billionaire man-baby who wants to be able to silence all criticism toward himself and his companies, and Twitter just happens to be where most of the criticism comes from.

So buy Twitter and the criticism goes away… or so he thinks.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m not so sure its about criticism. Ego is a part of it, but I think Musk thinks he can get Facebook money, which is important, because he’s leveraged a super inflated Tesla stock to the hilt to fund his sci-fi fantasies. If the market tumbles and Tesla takes too big a hit? Once his ventures start going bankrupt and banks look to recoup by seizing and selling Tesla stock? He’s an Enron level house of cards, keeping himself afloat by raiding government grants and selling vaporware he can’t deliver on and keeps doing more in the hope that this new thing will pull in financing to stablize all his previous failures.

He only cares about twitter because Twitter brigades have started highlighting that nothing Musk touches is a good investment and that his house of cards is heading for collapse.

Anonymous Coward says:

Twitter competitor Facebook.

Does Twitter and Facebook compete?

I realize this is anecdotal, but I use both Twitter and Facebook in completely different and distinct ways. The easiest way to describe this is that on Twitter, I know maybe 2 or 3 people in meatspace. On Facebook, all of my “friends” are people whom I actually know in meatspace, as well as family.

There could be an argument that they both compete in “social media” but I would venture to guess that most people use Facebook for different reason than they use Twitter.

Just my $0.02. (BTW, why isn’t there a simple coin emoji?)

Rocky says:


They are certainly competing, but as you mentioned people use the services differently which means that the competition only occurs on a small “overlap”.

What one should keep in mind though, is that FB have repeatedly shown that they want to swallow up other social media niches by buying up or creating new services that directly compete with others of the same nature. I guess this behavior is driven by their need to offset their lack of growth for Facebook in general.

It’s entirely possible that FB sees the whole Musk-Twitter debacle as a way to gobble up market share from Twitter in some way and that could possibly explain why Andreesen expressed himself in this manner.

nerdrage (profile) says:

Re: Twitter is a minnow compared with Facebook.

Google and Facebook are the big kahunas in ad-based social media. Twitter is an afterthought but if Musk really wanted to change that, he wouldn’t be encouraging free speech. He’d be encouraging the kind of speech the bosses – advertisers – want.

Whatever attracts a young demographic (forget anyone over 49, advertisers don’t want them). Make sure the content is ad-safe and not something that will drive them away. Controversy is good, up to a point. You want controversy that increases page views but when the Nazis arrive, shut that shit down fast. The advertisers don’t want their ads associated with that stuff.

Anonymous Coward says:

Tesla stock has been falling in the last 2 weeks, his talk about checking how many bots are on twitter suggests he wants to delay buying twitter or reduce the offer price. He’s maybe in favour of free speech as long as its not critical of him or tesla
He uses twitter as a free pr department to reach his fans and customers
Look up self driving tesla videos it seems actively dangerous to use making random errors forcing the driver to take back control to avoid other cars
The safety board had to force tesla to disable video game mode on the screen while the car is in motion
Anyone who is strongly Pro free speech would not be praising the new EU digital services law which reduces free speech and makes it easy to block remove user content
He may be better off failing to buy twitter as it puts his control of tesla stock at risk
When he proposed the bid it was just before the tech stock started to fall by 40 per cent

Anonymous Coward says:


his talk about checking how many bots are on twitter suggests he wants to delay buying twitter or reduce the offer price.
As he’s very wise to if the reports about the robot content of the site are remotely true: Twitter is a flawed company that could be in legal trouble with its shareholders. Thus is the problem of defining your company’s worth through subscribers and then inflating your subscribers with bots.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Pixelation says:

“People are upset that he is pro free speech.”

If he is so pro free speech, why isn’t he buying and promoting sites that give lip service to free speech, as in, you are free to say anything you want, like Parler or Trump Social? Oh right, they aren’t and neither is he.

Anonymous Coward says:


Because it’s his money and he can buy twitter all he wants. If he bought any of those other sites, then the people who run THEM would become millionaires, is this the world you want? someone like Andrew Torbald (I don’t know his name and don’t care about spelling it right) becoming a millionaire?
The fact people are so upset over him buying it is proof enough that Twitter is that important to people. Why wouldn’t he buy it?

nerdrage (profile) says:

Musk is wasting his money....

From what I can tell, Musk is a bored zillionaire who is blowing a lot of money to buy his own sandbox where he can do what the fuck ever he pleases. It has nothing particularly to do with free speech.

If he was looking at Twitter as a business, he would be wondering how he can solve its problem that advertisers think it’s kind of a joke. He would be looking to broaden the audience and to ensure that content is nothing that would send advertisers screaming for the exits.

If it’s not a business for making money, then I guess it’s his toy for whatever he wants. Well fine by me, I’ve never used Twitter. Never liked the business model that makes me a product to be sold to advertisers but whatever Musk has planned no doubt will be even worse and far less rational.

Rocky says:

Re: Re:

The rest of the world and their interpretation won’t matter because it will be his private company.

I think the investors that put up a bunch of billions for the proposed purchase wouldn’t consider Twitter to be Musk’s private company. Just like how every other share-holder would be kind of pissed off at Musk if bought Twitter and ran it into the ground.

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Because dude scores 100 points in a sportsball game doesn’t mean you should let him operate on you.

Because dude makes a bunch of popular companies doesn’t mean that he isn’t actually out of his fucking mind sometimes.
(Tunnels… IN FLORIDA)

People who are cheering on the idea that we live in a meritocracy are starting to see little hints that success doesn’t mean you are smart, good, kind, or have a clue about things outside of your area of success and there are some who still believe that successful people are successful in everything… (stares at Kanye & Kim)

Free Speech is a great thing, the problem is everyone has their own definition that doesn’t align with reality most of the time. Perhaps dude in tech isn’t the best person to claim his definition is the only definition of free speech that should be allowed.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

restless94110 (profile) says:


Wow, mansplain much? I skim-read more of your article than is good for anyone’s mental health, but I get it: you think that Musk is not for Free Speech because he had someone sign an NDA? Oh and also, Musk talked to someone you feel in your feelings is a dictator?

So maybe probably in your feral feelings (not mind, there is no thought in your writing–only feelings) that Musk is not for Free Speech?

How about you wait and see, splainer? But if it will make you feel any better, the next time I need to find the nearest Starbucks to get my soy latte, I will ask you to explain where it is.

Why did you write thousands of words about something that hasn’t happened yet? Mansplainer you sounds worried that Musk might allow people he “feels” should not be allowed to speak. In Free Speech, even dictators get to speak, so tamp down on the hysterical thousand-word articles for now, ok?

Or as Shakespeare said: Methinks the lady doth protest [too] much! Your essay is a gigantic tell. Does anyone need your splainin’ on what Free Speech? Jordan Peterson can help. Free Speech is the right to offend you. Free Speech is any speech. Feel me?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Mike Masnick (profile) says:


Your regular inability to understand basic concepts that are clearly explained — or, more accurately, to try to spin them in support of extremist bullshit talking points, is your own problem, dude.

You admit you did not read it. You have made it clear for however long you’ve been on this site that you are here to post extremist Trumpist and pro-Russian propaganda. I hope you’re at least paid well to do so, because otherwise, it’s just really, really pathetic.

Anonymous Coward says:

Is anyone keeping track of how many posts Mike has made this month seething about Elon Musk and his approach to Free Speech? It’s going to be his private company that he can do what he wants with, if he wants to define Free Speech as that, he’s free to do it anyway he wishes.

If we’re going on the moralist approach: it’s faaaaaaaaaaaaar more disingenuous to define Free Speech as not being “Freedom from Consequences”, social or not. Like our interpretation of Freedom of Speech now hinges on mob rule, hint: it does not morally include that and your constant attempts to conflate the two is frankly obnoxious. I think you should put this topic down for the time being because you’re not being objective about it. If China had issued the exact same statement about Free Speech, I would rightfully expect an article on here about China’s strict government regulated social code resulting in a culture of fear about speaking out. Yet when you talk about the same thing regarding twitter you seem almost glowing about it. You should really get some introspective.

Rocky says:


Is anyone keeping track of how many posts Mike has made this month seething about Elon Musk and his approach to Free Speech?

Why would anyone keep track? Musk say stupid things, Mike writes about it.

It’s going to be his private company that he can do what he wants with, if he wants to define Free Speech as that, he’s free to do it anyway he wishes.

Haven’t anyone told you how the world works? Musk borrowed money in his attempt to buy Twitter – do you really think he can do as he please with it? Think again. And if he fucks up and the investors call in his collateral he may well stand to lose control over Tesla for example.

If China had issued the exact same statement about Free Speech

Do you understand the concept of false equivalence? Doesn’t seem so.

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