Elon Musk has come to Twitter promising to bring free speech back to social media.
He said he was a “free speech absolutist” fighting the “clear head virus” of political correctness.
Such was his commitment to free speech, he declared, He won’t even ban the account that tracked his private jet.
Veteran social media watchers wonder how such absolutism plays out in practice, and when online forums without any moderation quickly become too unpleasant to use, in fact Musk seems to moderate his views slightly. , saying low-quality tweets will be downgraded by Twitter’s algorithm.
Those tweaks could be defended as tweaks to Musk’s overall vision.
What happened next couldn’t.
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first, Musk suspends account tracking his plane.
Then he goes a step further, Suspended the accounts of some tech journalists who covered the story.
Musk said he took the action to protect the safety of his family, citing the risks of sharing his real-time location after his car was apparently tailed by a threatening person on Wednesday night.
But accounts tracking his plane are collating publicly available data, and journalists are covering the story, rather than sharing “assassination coordinates,” as Musk claims.
Now Musk has gone even further, removing the audio-sharing feature Twitter Spaces entirely from the app after some banned journalists managed to enter the space to criticize him. Anyone planning to use Twitter Space today has to make other plans.
Musk has every right to make those decisions. He bought Twitter, reluctantly, at an absolutely inflated price. This is his toy and he can play with it however he wants.
But how can he combine this latest move with his commitment to free speech?A commitment so passionate that for the past two weeks, he has been Leaked ex-Twitter employees’ personal chats to right-wing journaliststo expose a supposed conspiracy to suppress free speech on the platform.
What’s behind Musk’s erratic reign?
There are many theories.
One theory is that spending too much time on Twitter has poisoned Musk’s brain, making him vulnerable to culture war agitators and right-wing activists.
Another blamed Silicon Valley for being too sensitive to tech criticism around Musk. Hatred of the media is so pervasive in both groups that it seems reasonable, even sensible, to ban journalists from journalism.
Several theories provide a business rationale for Musk’s actions.
Perhaps, the point of contention is that he is taking a page from former President Donald Trump, who used outrageous rhetoric and attacks on the media as a tool to draw attention to his projects.
Maybe he’s trying to turn Twitter into the social media equivalent of Fox News, the digital alternative to America’s most popular right-wing television station.
It’s impossible to know for sure, and in fact there seems to be little point in trying to find out why, since there doesn’t seem to be a grand strategy here at all.
Musk doesn’t care who gets hurt
Under Elon Musk, Twitter is ruled by whim.
Whatever he says happens – what he says depends on how he feels at the time, no matter how capricious and arbitrary they may appear to others.
This development shouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed Musk’s career. He has become one of the most successful entrepreneurs of his generation by supporting his instincts, regardless of who might be hurt.
But unlike cars and rockets, social networks are built on trust. Would it work if the same approach were used in a public forum involving some of Twitter’s most prominent and productive users?
What if Musk decides to ban the entire publication? Or a politician during an election? what will happen then?
Only one thing is certain about Elon Musk
Musk seems intent on proving perhaps the biggest argument against social media: that its sheer size concentrates power in too few hands, with worrying consequences for the health of democracy.
Knowing this, the founders of social media companies always carefully skirt the topic, hiding behind a plethora of self-made laws and bureaucratic procedures. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg even created a pseudo-Supreme Court to provide cover for his controversial decisions on Facebook and Instagram.
Musk’s carelessness in everything he does has paid off enormously. But at his other companies, the risk is largely contained. Now, he’s playing politics and the media around the world as he pleases.
Is it possible to continue?
We’re about to find out — because if there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that Musk isn’t going to change.