Elon Musk is not a “free speech absolutist”
The billionaire purchased Twitter claiming that he would bring free speech back to the platform, but instead he’s replaced the previous arbitrary censorship with his own
The first sign that Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter, was not a “free speech absolutist” as he had claimed to be was when, in an exchange with Kim Dotcom, he refused to reinstate Alex Jones’s Twitter account when he was reinstating other controversial figures like Donald Trump.
You can think whatever you want about what Alex Jones said on his Infowars program about the Sandy Hook school shooting, I personally think he’s garbage, but Jones was engaged only in speech. Not only that, but Musk does not even have a consistent or logical standard when it comes to the deaths of children when he won’t allow Jones to have a profile on the platform but continues to allow Bill Clinton to have one.
During the Clinton regime in the 90’s, the United States government had enacted crippling sanctions against Iraq which directly led to the deaths of an estimated 500,000 children in that country. Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright went on 60 Minutes and, when asked about that report, did not dispute the figures in any way whatsoever; she merely said that they thought the price is worth it.
So Alex Jones, who is only guilty of saying appalling words about a tragedy, is somehow worse than Bill Clinton, whose policies directly led to the deaths of half a million children? If Elon Musk has a red line when it comes to the deaths of children, then certainly no former U.S. presidents would be allowed on the platform and very few elected politicians at all. But that’s not the standard; that’s just one rule that applies to one person that Musk personally finds distasteful.
Then there’s the matter of rapper Kanye West, who Elon Musk unbanned from the platform and then re-banned after West posted a picture of a combination of the Nazi swastika and the Jewish Star of David.
Musk claims that this was somehow an incitement to violence.
But how is it an incitement to violence? Musk has never explained his rationale for this claim. West says in his tweet with the image, “LOVE EVERYONE.” You could certainly say he doesn’t mean what he says, but I don’t see how those words or that image in and of themselves could be deemed an incitement to violence. That West is being purposely offensive and looking for attention is, I think, undeniable, but neither of those things are bannable offenses under Twitter’s rules. Musk is making the false argument that the tweet constituted an incitement to violence to justify doing what he wanted to do for other reasons.
This is exactly what the previous Twitter regime did, most notably to Donald Trump, as we have learned from the Twitter Files.
You can see how they admit that Trump violated no rules and did not “clearly” incite any violence via his tweets.
But that wouldn’t last.
They began to look for ways to spin what Trump said into being a violation of their rules despite admitting that it’s not a rule violation “on its face.” They do this because they wanted to ban him for their own personal, political reasons, so they have to justify their decision to ban him by lying and claiming he broke the rules even though they admit he did not behind closed doors.
I believe this is exactly what Elon Musk did in the case of Kanye West. He’s claiming that West broke a rule, inciting violence, that he clearly did not break by stretching the meaning of the rule into meaninglessness. He wanted to ban Kanye from Twitter based, probably, on the idiotic things Kanye has been saying in public about Jews, Nazis, and Hitler, so, rather than admit he’s simply banning him because he doesn’t like the things that Kanye has been saying, he lies about Kanye having broken Twitter’s rules.
Now Musk has banned or suspended several accounts of prominent leftist media personalities who all happen to be some of his biggest critics on Twitter, such as Aaron Rupar, claiming that them posting, or at least retweeting, the movements of his private jet have put him and his family in danger. As Tom Rogan writes in the Washington Examiner, this is public information to begin with that anyone could have looked up at any time.
The CEO’s complaint is that the public's awareness of his private jet’s movements was undermining his family’s safety. He pointed to a specific example involving an unfortunate incident in which someone apparently followed his young child in Los Angeles.
Musk did not, however, show how the tracking of his movements led to the incident. More importantly, he ignores the basic fact that freely available flight-tracking websites are a key tool of researchers, journalists, and activists. These tracking tools have been heavily used by researchers, for example, to track Russian oligarchs and other corrupt interests. They are used by journalists such as myself to monitor military and political activity of public interest. Would he have these opportunities disappear? At the most basic level, these websites facilitate the pursuit of happiness by flight enthusiasts! The basic point is that monitoring flights does not, per se, endanger anyone's safety. But this monitoring provides significant public interest benefits.
What was done was certainly not the same as doxxing someone, which is against Twitter’s rules, or inciting violence against them. That it possibly led to a deranged stalker going after Musk’s child, thinking Musk would be there, is unfortunate, but public figures have always needed more security than the average person. As I argued in the case of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and for Nancy Pelosi and her husband, nobody made these people choose careers that put them at the forefront of contentious political issues. Nobody made Elon Musk purchase Twitter and rub it in the faces of people he disagrees with politically. That position comes with benefits, but it also comes with downsides. As such, people in their positions are able to afford their own private security and should absolutely make that investment. It’s sad that they should have to do so, nobody should be in fear for their safety based on their political beliefs, but we have to take the world as it is unfortunately.
The issue here is free speech, which Elon Musk purchased Twitter to restore to the platform, or so he claimed. The issue is not what the U.S. federal government would do, or whether Kanye West or Aaron Rupar are bad people. It’s the freedom of speech. Musk claimed to be a “free speech absolutist,” and I would say he’s at least increased the freedom of speech on the platform, but he is still censoring people in an arbitrary manner just as the people who ran Twitter before him did. He may have done irreparable harm to Twitter in this latest banning spree, and he has certainly made himself out to be as weak and petty as the critics he banned/suspended always claimed that he was.