When the pilgrims left Europe to escape the corrupt Church of England in the early 17th century in hopes of a better life in the New World, a few things were on their minds; most notably, the freedom to practice their religion as they saw fit. They wanted to practice and say what they believe; the latter, perhaps, has become the most important ideal in American history.
Enshrined in the First Amendment, the prohibition against the government’s “abridging the freedom of speech” is one of the most cherished by the American people. Although the First Amendment is not an expansive protection across all of American society (it only constrains the government), the value it encapsulates is deeply embedded in American culture: the importance of one’s ability to speak his or her mind openly.
In modern times, the American people stand at an important crossroads.
It’s a story as old as time: technological development outpacing all moral and legal constraints. With the hyper-development of the internet and subsequent creation of social media, the law has not been able to keep up; § 230 controls the restrictions social media platforms can make to user-generated content as well as defining liability for these companies in regards to user-generated content. The law has done an inadequate job. (you can look to my article “Controversy surrounds Google Monolith” for a more in-depth discussion on § 230.)
The Internet, specifically social media platforms, have become today’s town square.
The internet, specifically social media platforms, have become today’s town square. No longer are the days of print newspapers or broadcast journalism where the likes of The New York Times and Walter Cronkite dominated with their, at the time, largely fair coverage.
Social media now dominates the information sphere.
Currently, freelance journalists and commentators control much of the mainstream political discussion. As of January 2021, Pew Research Center found that 86% of adult Americans received some or most of their news from social media, an even higher number for younger generations, our generation. And with politics growing increasingly polarizing, the ease of access to information on both sides of the political spectrum on social media platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook is becoming more important than ever before.
Twitter, for example, although its substantive political discourse is virtually non-existent, does provide many with their daily dose of news. Thus, Twitter has a moral obligation to provide equal access and platforms to users on both sides of the political spectrum by enforcing its rules in an even-handed way, something Twitter has a shoddy track record with.
Here are some examples:
Twitter removed the both New York Post’s account and any post with a link to New York Post’s article on Hunter Biden’s laptop because it violated Twitter’s “Hacked Materials” policy (two points to mention here: first, the validity of what is said in the article does not matter in this argument, and two, Twitter would later admit that it did not violate this policy). This was done during the height of election season and could have had a real effect on the vote tally.
But, when then-President Trump’s tax returns were leaked to the public after the New York District Attorney acquired them during discovery in a lawsuit, Twitter refused to remove it, even though it was definitionally protected by their “Private Information Policy.”
Twitter removed Babylon Bee’s account for satirically naming Rachel Levine as their Man of the Year because of hate speech, misgendering, and inciting violence against her. But when Comedian Kathy Griffin posted a picture of herself holding up a fake but bloodied, severed head of former-President Trump (look it up for yourself, it’s viscerally disgusting), Twitter protected her, even though that post could much more convincingly be called a threat of violence.
Although there are many more examples that could be given across many more platforms, those two are, perhaps, the most demonstrative of the difference in treatment.
Frustrated, many conservatives moved towards alternatuve platforms.
Frustrated, many conservatives moved towards alternative platforms. Parler, although all its users were painted as QAnon conspirators, was a largely normal social media app with conservative users. It was quickly taken off of the Apple App Store, Google App Store, and unfindable on Google or Bing.
The result is all of the mainstream social media platforms leaning left, silencing—sometimes rightly, most of the time wrongly—conservative voices. Any attempt to start a more free-speech-friendly platform has been met with monopolistic practices—something Google was getting prosecuted for by the United States Attorney General and many state Attorneys General before the Biden Administration stopped the case.
There is an easy solution to this problem: Elon Musk. As controversial a man as he is, Musk has consistently proven that he values free speech and falls into the heterodox gray area of American politics, two characteristics that lend themself to the acceptance of opposing ideas and unrestricted discussion.
It was no surprise when he announced his intentions to purchase Twitter outright shortly after becoming the company’s majority shareholder.
If one can look past his smoking marijuana on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast or his, quite frankly, hilarious memes that he posts on his Twitter account, they will find that Musk often uses his monetary success to support causes he cares about. That’s why it was no surprise when he announced his intentions to purchase Twitter outright shortly after becoming the company’s majority shareholder.
Although Twitter has recently put in place institutional guards to discourage Musk from purchasing Twitter, I still believe that should Musk purchase Twitter, he could dramatically change the state of American political discourse for the better.