Elon Musk once again embarrasses himself on the world stage by proudly displaying a school-level familiarity with the extremely complex concepts of freedom of expression, censorship, the rights and privileges of individuals and governmental authorities. The fact that this aggressively ignorant person is likely to take over one of the greatest communications platforms on Earth should scare you.
Here’s what the world’s richest man said earlier today about the platform he plans to acquire:
By “freedom of expression”, I simply mean what corresponds to the law. I am against censorship which goes far beyond the law. If people want less freedom of speech, they will ask the government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is against the will of the people.
Elon has a thing going for him. He has demonstrated a seemingly innate ability to pack more willful, privileged ignorance into a single sentence than almost anyone on the planet.
These statements are so fundamentally wrong – factually, ethically, practically, and in every other way, that I hardly know where to begin.
On the one hand, he might want to examine the most basic descriptions of what constitutes free speech and censorship. Censorship is when state authorities limit the speech of people under their power. Freedom of speech is the guarantee that no action defined as speech is illegal apart from a few harmful examples, such as hate speech, harassment and other special cases (under constant negotiation) which we, in as a society, have decided to constitute crimes.
But it’s an incredibly complicated and nuanced concept, not a big thick line with censorship on one side and the wanton absence of any restriction on the other. The courts are constantly defining and literally redefining what is meant by “that which corresponds to the law”. We have a whole branch of government whose job it is to interpret the law. There’s no simple solution, algorithm, or hard set of rules that governs this, and the idea that Elon seems to either be assuming there is, or proposing that one be written , is the first sign that he has no idea what he is talking about. .
Then comes “censorship which goes well beyond the law”. Presumably he means “censorship” such as moderation by private actors like corporations, which is not censorship (only governments can be censors) but in fact, by definition and legal precedent, a the expression of freedom of expression by these companies.
By seeking to limit what private companies (as considered by the law that Musk seems to care so much about) do in this context, he is proposing limits on their freedom of expression. By suggesting that the government be the one to define and impose these limits, it is literally propose a system of censorship.
It’s not some strange twist of logic, it’s what the words he said actually mean. He just had no fucking idea what he was saying.
Then, “If people want less freedom of expression, they will ask the government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is against the will of the people. OKAY! There are actually a lot of proposals in that direction, Elon. Right now the country is in the midst of a real and terrifying battle over real freedom of speech in which teachers are being told – by their governments, making it censorship! — what subjects they can and cannot teach in schools.
Florida and Texas and others want to limit free speech; in fact, they succeeded. Who asked them to do this? “The people”? Do “the people” want math textbooks that mention black mathematicians in history banned from use? Or that explaining why someone could have two fathers is against the law? The idea that government action is by definition the will of the people is one of the most naive things I have ever encountered. Is Elon aware that voting rights are systematically being dismantled and bills being drafted by lobbyists? Does he know the story of gerrymandering, redlining, voter suppression and general ratfuckering that makes up the story of “asking the government to pass laws”?
What the fuck do you know about “the will of the people”, Elon? Born rich and now rich beyond measure, he is a man who has no idea who “the people” are. He thinks they want vacuum tunnels they can load their $80,000 cars into to shorten their LA-SF commute or their bicoastal lifestyle.
He may be surprised that “the will of the people,” apart from the flattering bubble in his answers, is that billionaires probably shouldn’t exist at all. “The people” could very well tell him, if he asked, that his unfathomable riches should be liquidated and directed towards reducing things like world hunger – the thing that Elon said he would solve if anyone someone sent him a plan, then forgot about it. Probably because he has no idea what it’s like to be hungry either!
More relevant to Twitter news, this baby’s first debate on one of the most complex and controversial topics in history means the plans he has for the social network must be really, really stupid and misinformed. .
You might be surprised to hear this, Elon, but “people” have been talking about it ever since. centuries. Maybe audit a freshman course on ethics and philosophy, or just have someone boil down the reading list to a few bullet points. Other people, like the brightest minds of every generation since we could record it, have considered these matters in detail long before you were born into fortune and privilege. Your point of view is beyond ignorance, for it asserts knowledge where there is none, asserts superiority over something you have never even considered. You can run a Hyperloop in the void that is Elon Musk’s civic knowledge. A Dragon spaceship could float safely through the void that is Elon Musk’s understanding of the cultural and legal maze of expression and identity in a free society.
All of this portends an incredibly simplistic and harmful view of free speech and moderation on a platform that desperately needs a sophisticated, humane, responsive tool — something Twitter, Facebook, and everyone else has been trying (and failing, but slowly making progress) to do for over a decade. Something that Elon Musk seems particularly unfit to imagine or administer.
Elon, your ideas about free speech aren’t what I would call bad or abhorrent by a long shot – they’re just wrong. They are wrong because you ignore the most basic context and precedents surrounding these concepts, as well as the highly specialized situational knowledge that informs the creation and management of a modern communications platform. You just have no idea what you’re talking about.