Students and Faculty debate Musk’s Twitter acquisition

Elon Musk Speaks at a Tesla Event in 2014 – Via Wikamedia Commons

On October 27, Elon Musk made his 44 billion dollar purchase of Twitter official. After a tumultuous month of firings, resignations, and dramatic celebrity exits, the company appears to have settled slightly into its new look. Opinions on the implications of Musk’s purchase range from the restoration of free speech to the death of democracy as we know it. One thing is clear—the popular social media platform has been changed forever.

An immediate effect of the transaction has been the nature of political discourse; Musk has cut back on the censorship of certain political claims, including those pertaining to the 2020 presidential election results. Many users see Twitter as a shortcut for receiving news, and the newly relaxed policies could have a significant impact on the reception of information.

“I think it’s too early to tell what [the effects of Musk’s purchase] are going to be,” Fifth Form Dean and history teacher Mr. Timothy Lengel said. “It’s not like Twitter was a haven of Socratic debate before Elon Musk bought it. With that being said, at least from what’s being reported in the news, he has fired pretty quickly all the people who were in charge of combating hate speech, election misinformation, [and] that kind of thing on the platform. So I would imagine things are going to get worse, not better, in terms of news on Twitter.”

I’m incredibly worried about democracy. I think, ultimately, Twitter specifically is not that big a part of the puzzle.

Mr. timothy lengel

Fifth Former Jackson Raleigh believes that Musk’s policies will have a greater impact on younger users.

“I think a big problem for our generation is knowing what to trust, so maybe that could become more of an issue,” Raleigh said. “With Elon allowing a lot of things on the platform, it’s going to be tough to differentiate between real sources and fake sources.”

Critics of Musk’s purchase have called it a threat to democracy, especially following his reinstatement of Former President Donald Trump. Mr. Lengel believes that democracy in America is in danger, but he’s not willing to place the blame squarely on Twitter. 

“I’m incredibly worried about democracy. I think, ultimately, Twitter specifically is not that big a part of the puzzle. With that being said, I think any place where election misinformation and also news misinformation is being posted is obviously a source of huge concern,” Mr. Lengel said.

Perhaps the most notable ban in Twitter’s history was in January of 2021 when Former President Donald Trump’s account was suspended after he “posted messages that violated the company’s rules” by inciting a riot at the Capitol. 

History Department Chair Ms. Hannah Turlish points to the incident as an example of censorship being justified.

Twitter Headquarters in San Francisco – Wikimedia

“Posting things that lead to the destruction of our democratic system—that’s where the old guard at Twitter drew the line,” Ms. Turlish said. “You can’t post things that lead to insurrection.”

The regulation of speech is a hotly debated topic among the public, as there can be a fine line between protecting democracy and suppressing it.

“Whatever it takes to preserve democracy, I’m in favor of [it],” Ms. Turlish said. “And so, when something is destructive to democracy, I’m in favor of the regulation of it. I understand that’s tricky because free speech is a very important thing to have, but putting things out there that are false, and that are invented specifically to undermine our trust in democracy—I personally do not see that as something that should be permitted on Twitter or any social media platform.”

Advocates of Musk’s purchase pointed to Twitter’s previous suppression of free speech as a cause for change, as many felt it violated the First Amendment.

“Private corporations are not in any way constitutionally obligated to allow any speech,” Ms. Turlish said. “I get tired at this school hearing students talk about ‘cancel culture’ and ‘first amendment rights’—it’s not any corporation’s obligation to give a platform to everything.”

It allows for more free speech, so I love it.

Blake paul ’24

Regarding censorship, Musk has given the impression that he is handpicking who is allowed on the platform.

“I think it will be interesting for censorship especially,” Sixth Former Orion Wister said. “With [Musk] running the show, it’s a bit more of a dictatorial type of company now, where he controls who’s on the platform and who’s not.”

After taking over Twitter, Musk—a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist”—brought back the accounts of several controversial figures, including social media presence Andrew Tate, political commentator Jordan Peterson, and, temporarily, rapper Kanye West.

“It allows for more free speech, so I love it,” Fifth Former Blake Paul said. “Everybody’s voice should be allowed, no matter what their viewpoints are. Extremist, non-extremist, doesn’t matter.”

One of the major concerns is the effects of such figures on young, impressionable minds. But some students argue that they can make the decisions for themselves.

 “I think Andrew Tate should be allowed on Twitter,” Raleigh said. “I think everybody should have the ability to voice their opinion, no matter how crazy it is. It becomes difficult because you don’t want hate speech on the platform, especially now with so many young people on it, but I think if you’re a parent, and you’re allowing your kid to have Twitter, that’s a mistake on its own.”

Policies aside, the move is also significant because of the man who made it. While skeptics of Musk have been outspoken, so have his fans. 

“Our country overall, but young men in particular, are attracted to this myth, and I’m going to emphasize myth, of the oddball genius white man,” Ms. Turlish said. “And I think nine times out of ten it’s just a facade, and these are not special people.”

[Musk] just checks a lot of boxes on what young men, and young Haverford men, would find worthy of looking up to.

Ms. Hannah turlish

Ms. Turlish believes that Musk could be a role model for many students hoping to achieve financial glory.

“It seems that Elon Musk is this ultimate quirky oddball, who’s also the richest person on the planet and a white man,” Ms. Turlish said. “It just checks a lot of boxes on what young men, and young Haverford men, would find worthy of looking up to.”

Raleigh provided an alternative for why some may idolize a person like Musk.

“Personally, I don’t feel too strongly about him, but I know that he has Aspergers, and I think that’s a good representation that you can be successful with having a mental disability,” Raleigh said. “He is a very progressive mind, with space and car science, and possibly bringing about the green revolution for cars.”

Even more empathetic perspectives toward Musk often do not completely support his new role. What many will hope for going forward is a proper balance in all aspects of the platform.

“I don’t really think it’s right for one person, especially a person who’s not really known as the most logical person, being at the head of it,” Raleigh said. “I’d hope to find some type of middle ground.”