from the free-speech-is-about-principles,-not-sloganeering dept
We tend to think of McSweeney’s as a satire magazine, but on this one, it’s dead on:
They say that if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything. So today, I’m drawing a line in the sand and standing up for free speech. Let every enemy of freedom know, let every would-be tyrant be warned, and let every petty dictator take notice: If you want Twitter to censor its users, just send me an email.
From the very beginning of Elon Musk’s foray into being a social media magnate, we pointed out that he had no fucking clue what it meant to support free speech on such a site. Supporting free speech does not mean simply “allowing troll accounts I like that were suspended for violating the rules back online.” But that seems to be Musk’s entire understanding of free speech.
For example, we’ve also noted, repeatedly, that this tweet a year ago from Musk shows someone who has not actually thought about what it means to stand up for actual free speech:
Because, that means that you’re willing to bow down to any censorial authoritarian country — something that the old Twitter (the one Musk insists did not support free speech) regularly fought back against.
And, so far, Musk has shown a willingness to bow down to authoritarian censors. Every time he’s had a chance to take a stand, he’s folded. Whereas old Twitter refused to take down any tweets from activists and journalists in India, filed a lawsuit against the government, and publicly resisted demands that it pull down criticism of President Modi, Elon caved immediately and blocked some content from activists and journalists worldwide, not just in India.
The latest is yet another example of that. Just as the Turkish election was about to take place, the government demanded that Twitter censor content critical of authoritarian strongman, gollum-lookalike, and world’s most thin skinned leader, Recep Erdogan. And Elon caved.
Now, the old Twitter actually had a history of pushing back against such demands, and even took the Turkish government to court after the government tried to fine the company for refusing to take down content. That wasn’t the only time. We had another story of the old Twitter refusing to block a newspaper’s feed, despite demands from the Turkish government. Back in 2014, Erdogan got so mad at Twitter that he officially blocked it from the entire country, but the citizenry got so angry that the ban was quickly reversed.
In other words, the old Twitter fought regularly over this stuff and went to court.
And Elon just folded.
And when people called him out on this, he (as per usual) got childish and defensive. Here he is insulting Matt Yglesias over this:
Yglesias is actually making a good point here. For all the talk of the Twitter Files, which Musk promised us would show the US government demanding Twitter censor people (when it showed nothing of the sort), here’s an example of a literal government demanding literal censorship, and Musk just rolls right over.
Musk’s response is nonsense. Again, the old Twitter had a long history of fighting exactly these cases as linked above. This is why we’ve pointed out over and over again that the old Twitter was one of the staunchest defenders of actual free speech and that Musk (on day one) fired the people who were the most avid free speech defenders at the company. They might have been able to tell him how to better deal with these situations.
And it’s not like people didn’t try to warn him. This issue was literally “Level Nine” of the speed run lesson plan I gave Elon. Except, even then, I thought that Elon would have the principles to first try to stand up against such authoritarian censors, but apparently I overestimated his willingness to actually fight for free speech.
Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales highlighted this as well, noting how Wikipedia had received similar orders, but fought them (and won):
Also, note the contrast when some other governments told Elon to remove Russian propagandists. Then he refused, claiming to be a free speech absolutist. Why is this different?
And, of course, Musk’s loudest fans are defending this move, because they have no principles at all. Free speech means having principles and pushing back when governments demand you pull down content that does not violate your policies. It means standing up to governments, not bowing down to them, and letting them push you around.
So, let me ask those defending this move by Musk: are you really suggesting that caving to authoritarian threats to censor content does more than fighting back against those threats? If you say, as Musk does above, that allowing some speech in Turkey is better than being blocked entirely, then how does that same argument not apply to other actions by Twitter to remove some content (such as abusive and harassing content) that might otherwise drive users away?
With this latest move, Musk has screamed loud and clear to any censorial government out there that they just need to threaten to block Twitter and he’ll fold like a cheap suit. Meanwhile, he’ll lie and insist that the US government was censoring content, even as the Twitter Files only showed reports about accounts that might have actually violated Twitter’s polices, and the company regularly pushed back on those and refused to remove the accounts.
But for some reason he was up in arms about that, whereas here he thinks someone’s “brain fell out of their head” for simply wondering when we’ll see the “Twitter Files” for Musk’s negotiations with the Turkish government.
Once again, don’t let anyone get away with suggesting that Musk supports free speech. He clearly does not. He supports accounts that he likes being able to use a website he owns. That’s it.