from the careening-along-the-curve-of-hypocrisy dept
Last week, we posted a cheat sheet on how to speedrun the content moderation learning curve. It went a bit viral, but I don’t think Elon got to check it out. In the meantime, he seems to be doing his actual speedrunning in public.
Anyhoo… let’s just say that the next few paragraphs are known as foreshadowing
Back in May at a conference, Elon Musk said that he was against the idea of “perma” bans.
“I do think it was not correct to ban Donald Trump, I think that was a mistake,” Musk said. “I would reverse the perma-ban. … But my opinion, and Jack Dorsey, I want to be clear, shares this opinion, is that we should not have perma-bans.”
A few weeks before that, he said that he hoped that “even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means.”
He also said that when he talked about bringing free speech back to Twitter, he meant “that which matches the law” saying that he was “against censorship that goes far beyond the law.”
And, just as a side note (by which I mean, more foreshadowing) parody has been found to be protected by the 1st Amendment, making it very much “matching the law.” And, in one important case, the wonderful judge, Pierre Leval, pointed out that parody is still protected by the 1st Amendment even if some are fooled by it. In that case, one of the claims was that a parody done by New York Magazine was not labeled as parody. But Judge Leval points out that this does not matter:
Although New York’s position would probably be stronger if its joke had been clearer, the obscurity of its joke does not deprive it of First Amendment support. First Amendment protections do not apply only to those who speak clearly, whose jokes are funny, and whose parodies succeed.
Oh, and one more: after he took over Twitter, Musk declared “Comedy is now legal on Twitter.”
Alrighty. Enough of the foreshadowing. On Sunday evening, Musk decreed that impersonation will immediately result in a permaban.
Going forward, any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying “parody” will be permanently suspended
Of course, as basically everyone noticed, the “impersonation” accounts that were getting suspended seemed to most be people making fun of Elon Musk. Most notably, comedian Kathy Griffin changed her name to Elon Musk and had mocked him. Some others had done something similar.
Thus, only a week into ownership, Musk has gone back on “all legal free speech,” no permabans, and hoping that his critics would remain on Twitter all in one shot. It’s almost impressive.
And, yes, you can (and I’m sure some very eager people will in our comments) make the argument that impersonating users is potentially problematic. Musk tried to clarify that he was talking about accounts with checkmarks (what used to be verified accounts, but under Musk’s leadership now mean “willing to pay $8/month”). And, yes, back when the checkmarks were about verified identity, I could see how problematic it would be for someone to impersonate someone else. That’s less so under the “pay for checkmark with no verification” setup though.
But, the key point is that this is exactly what many of us have been trying to tell Musk since way back in March. That moderation issues are not about “free speech.” It’s something else entirely.
I don’t begrudge Musk trying to deal with real potential issues that might come with impersonation. But… if he had even an ounce of self-reflection he might realize that all of these hypocritical moves he is making suggests that maybe, just maybe, Twitter and all the employees he fired, actually did have a decent (or, let’s say, very, very firm) grasp on what free speech actually means and how to manage a platform like Twitter.
And while I really had hoped that maybe he secretly did understand all this and was just hamming it up for his fans, it really appears that Musk is rushing headlong through the content moderation learning curve and making all the same moves as everyone else before him. It’s easy to declare “free speech for all” until suddenly all hell breaks loose and people are mocking you left and right.
Anyway, comedy remains legal, and in some ways, this is all very, very funny.