Elon Musk’s Twitter Stake Is Promising, but Not a Permanent Fix for Free Speech
As social media has devolved from a free speech zone to a censorious minefield (my take) or a cesspool of misinformation from which people should be protected (according to people who are wrong) or just a shitty-algorithm-driven mess (probably true), the standard response to critics has been: build an alternative! A fair number of alternatives now exist, some more successful than others. But now tech billionaire Elon Musk puts forward a new approach: buy a stake in an existing platform and champion a culture of free speech. This may well be a boon for open discourse in the short term, but a permanent cure for intolerance requires more.
“Elon Musk took a 9.2% stake in Twitter Inc. to become the platform’s biggest shareholder, a week after hinting he might shake up the social media industry,” Bloomberg News reported on Monday. Musk also gained a seat on the company’s board of directors.
The “shake up” refers to hints Musk dropped about starting a new social media platform that would use open-source algorithms and have a stronger dedication to free speech than much-criticized mainstream platforms including Facebook, YouTube, and, especially, Twitter. Tellingly, though, Musk not only became Twitter’s largest shareholder, but before the Schedule13G disclosing the acquisition was revealed, he asked Twitter users whether they thought “Twitter rigorously adheres” to free speech. About 70 percent of self-selected respondents said “no.”
Among those endorsing Musk’s take on Twitter’s need for change is, apparently, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, who retweeted a related poll about the importance of basing the social media platform on open-source algorithms. He stepped down as Twitter’s CEO last year and will leave the company’s board next month. Dorsey took flack during his tenure as CEO, but there were signs that he was a free speech advocate navigating conflicting demands from government, politicized staff, and mutually loathing factions in a divided society.
“The pressure comes from both above and below. You’ve got the United States Senate basically saying: ‘Nice little social network you got there. Real shame for anything to happen to it,'” tech entrepreneur David Stack told Bari Weiss last week. “From below, you’ve got the employees and the tweet mobs and basically forming these boycotts and subjecting the management of the company to pressure.”
Dorsey criticized his own company’s suppression of the since-verified Hunter Biden laptop story, long resisted his own employees’ calls to ban former President Donald Trump from the platform, and told Congress that neither tech companies nor government should be “arbiters of truth.” His departure was not a good sign for a service that once touted itself as “the free speech wing of the free speech party.”
“Anyone who harbors concerns that social media have already grown too intolerant of dissenting opinions—too inclined to silence viewpoints that depart from liberal orthodoxy—should be worried about Dorsey leaving,” Reason‘s Robby Soave wrote at the time.
Article from Reason.com