Don’t Blame Elon Musk for Turkey’s Authoritarian Twitter Censorship
Twitter CEO Elon Musk is facing a barrage of media criticism for acquiescing to demands from the Turkish government to censor content on the site. The acts of censorship took place last week, just days before the country’s presidential election; unsurprisingly, the restricted accounts had expressed criticism of autocratic Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Given that Musk has promised to make Twitter a platform for free speech—indeed, his stated rationale for buying the site was to make it more protective of political expression—his kowtowing to Erdogan has struck many commentators as hypocritical. “Elon Musk Doesn’t Care About Free Speech,” declared The New Republic. NBA star Enes Kanter Freedom, a Turkish dissident who has frequently criticized the Erdogan regime, said “I don’t want to hear about Elon Musk talking about free speech ever again.”
Reason‘s Elizabeth Nolan Brown also chided Musk for “making a dictator’s job easier.” And Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales tweeted that treating freedom of speech “as a principle rather than a slogan” would have meant fighting back harder.
What Wikipedia did: we stood strong for our principles and fought to the Supreme Court of Turkey and won. This is what it means to treat freedom of expression as a principle rather than a slogan. https://t.co/tHkx1Wa06r
— Jimmy Wales (@jimmy_wales) May 13, 2023
It’s absolutely true that there’s a certain incoherence to Musk’s approach. He croons about free speech, while also pledging to follow applicable local laws. He has said he is willing to lose money on Twitter if it means protecting free speech, but he has also said that Twitter will not try to impose its values (free speech, one assumes) on the rest of the world.
Most countries, unfortunately, do not have free speech protections that are as robust as the U.S.’s First Amendment—and even in the U.S., social media companies have faced tremendous pressure from federal government agencies to censor speech. Musk is well aware of this, having green-lit the Twitter Files. Perhaps he should have anticipated that his various pledges—allow free speech, obey the law, be willing to lose money, don’t impose values—would swiftly come into conflict.
But some of the criticism seems to suggest that Musk’s decision to heed Turkey is some new low for social media platforms. Ryan Mac, a tech reporter for The New York Times, frets that Musk has provided “a blueprint for repressive governments everywhere.”
“If Twitter doesn’t censor the cont
Article from Reason.com