All hail the free speech absolutist?

What will the Muskification of Twitter actually mean? Why is there such a reaction against the spectre of the return of freedom of speech?

You are reading: All hail the free speech absolutist?

It really does feel as though the world is in a bit of a pickle.

We have lost the ability to listen to others and the art of debate. I have no doubt that social media has a lot to answer for, as keyboard warriors now have a (very shouty) voice that they did not previously get heard. Rational debate has vanished in the face of slagging matches online. That is very sad.

Equally sad is the performance of the main stream media over the past couple of years, which has failed miserably to do anything other than act as a loudhailer for government propaganda. We face a media tidal wave of government rhetoric and the merest hint of questioning the official party line is met with derision and cancel culture.

This has been echoed in a lot of big tech, where politics has influenced algorithmic decisions and the victim has often been freedom of speech. I have witnessed this first hand, where Tweets, where I have simply shared government data, have been censored. They were deemed to be misleading, despite linking directly to ONS data to show how the data does not support the narrative. If Twitter minnows such as me are being silenced, you know that it is algorithmic and rules have been put in place to eliminate certain points of view. R.I.P. freedom of speech.

I am therefore very interested to see what happens if the proposed ‘Muskification’ of Twitter goes ahead. I have been somewhat surprised by the clamour in certain circles, especially the marketing world where people are getting their knickers in a twist about how seismic this move is, but am excited by the potential renaissance of freedom of speech.

Elon Musk is a controversial figure and certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. I am not a superfan by any stretch of the imagination but will admit that I am attracted to his aspirations for transparency of debate. A self-anointed “free speech absolutist”, Musk has a good track record in public criticism of Twitter’s content policies. Most notably (notoriously?), he was very vocal about Twitter banning former US President Donald Trump.

In Twitter’s defence, it is important to recognise the challenges in identifying and managing spam and blatant disinformation. This is very difficult to achieve at scale. I am sure that everybody would agree that we need to do something to avoid inciting racial hatred or terrorism, for example, but it does feel as though current levels of censorship have gone too far. Add the general ‘wokification’ of every aspect of our lives and you arrive quickly at a platform where free speech is no longer tolerated.

I will be interested to see how a Musk takeover will meet this challenge, but I will admit that I am pleased to hear that open debate, without the threat of cancel culture, may return to our digital shores. That has to be a good thing, surely?

I am not the only one to share this aspiration:

Here is another similar voice:

These voices of support are not unanimous and there has been a lot of negative noise in the Twittersphere. The ‘panic’ that Abhishek Banerjee speaks of does appear very real. In many instances, this is turning into outright vitriol:

Elon Musk Hatred

Really?! I thought you liberal lefties were supposed to be the good guys?

I find it very sad that so many people are appalled at the spectre of open debate. This does not mean that far right militants are suddenly going to dominate the platform. It does, however, mean that the woke brigade may actually have to enter a dialogue with those with differing views. I don’t think that they like that concept. In the words of the man himself:

Who knows? The deal may not actually happen and I will only really believe it once the ink has dried, but it will be fascinating to see what influence Musk may have and whether he will be successful in overcoming the challenge of free speech without descending into endless spats.

If he is successful in that endeavour, you have to question where that leaves other platforms that are so aggressive with their cancel culture? Will Facebook implode if the true extent of their censorship is exposed?

Interesting times ahead…


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