Elon Musk claims to be a “free speech absolutist.”
It was in the name of free speech that the richest man in the world attacked the microblogging website Twitter for months, until he finally made a $44 billion offer to buy it on April 14.
“Free speech is essential to a functioning democracy,” the billionaire posted on the social network on March 25. “Do you believe Twitter rigorously adheres to this principle?” he added with a poll, asking Twitter users to vote.
The following day he was on the attack again.
“Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy. What should be done?”
The Law Is the Red Line
He didn’t stop the attacks even after he put his offer on the table.
“I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means,” he posted on April 25.
“By ‘free speech’, I simply mean that which matches the law,” he said on April 26. “I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law. If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people.”
Basically for Musk, as long as the remarks do not violate the law of the country in which they are made, he does not see a problem, even if these remarks are hateful, racist, false, misleading, or amount to bullying. To remove content from a platform, it would be necessary that this content violated the law, seems to be where the billionaire draws the line.
“The attacks against me should be viewed through a political lens – this is their standard (despicable) playbook – but nothing will deter me from fighting for a good future and your right to free speech,” he said on May 19.
A Troublesome Friend
The billionaire has promised that Twitter under his control will become a bastion of free speech.
Suiting the action to the word, he promised that he will reinstate the account of former President Donald Trump, banned from the main social networks – Twitter (TWTR) , Facebook (META) , Youtube (GOOGL) – after the events of January 6, 2021 at the US Capitol.
His statements have made him a hero among conservatives, despite the fact that he and Trump clashed in public recently. After the tech tycoon said he would likely support Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the 2024 presidential election, Trump, who is considering running, called Musk a “bullshit artist.” Musk responded by telling him he was too old and needed to retire.
The right turn a blind eye to the bickering between the two men because they see in Musk someone who could challenge the hegemony and censorship of big tech. Indeed, conservatives hope that once Musk takes control of Twitter, the platform will become a place of expression without policing. Everything would be said there. Any comment would be allowed whether it be hateful, bigoted or racist.
After a final twist, the mogul is currently trying to finalize the acquisition. The Delaware Chancery Court, which had been petitioned by Twitter after Musk at one point withdrew his offer, gave the two sides until October 28 to reach a final agreement.
In the meantime, Musk has just faced one of the challenges that will come his way once he owns the platform. Rapper, fashion designer and trendsetter Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, had his Twitter account restricted just one day upon returning to the platform after nearly two years. Musk, who considers him a friend, welcomed him warmly.
“Welcome back to Twitter, my friend!” Musk posted on October 8.
The message was intended for Ye, whose account had just been restricted by Instagram after posting anti-Semitic messages. The rapper also caused controversy by wearing a t-shirt with “White Lives Matter” written on it.
But just a day after returning, Ye, who reinvented sneakers with his YEEZY brand, had his account restricted and locked by Twitter for violating company policy.
The billionaire musician tweeted on October 9 that he would go “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE,” a reference to the U.S. military readiness condition scale known as DEFCON.
“You guys have toyed with me and tried to black ball anyone whoever opposes your agenda,” he added.
Twitter has since removed the post.
Ye’s anti-Semitic remarks caused an uproar.
The hateful remarks also put Musk on the defensive after he welcomed his friend hours earlier. The CEO of Tesla thus found himself in front of a dilemma that will confront him in the future: how will he be able to balance the principle of free speech against his own values?
Or put simply, as the boss of Twitter, will his defense of free speech be perceived as an endorsement of what people say on the platform? In a word, does he share their values? Musk seems to be aware of this challenge.
“Talked to ye today & expressed my concerns about his recent tweet, which I think he took to heart,” he posted on October 10.
This message suggests that he does not share the values expressed by Ye. He also adds that his friend heard him but the question remains: what will Musk do when Ye makes the same comments on a Twitter controlled by the billionaire?
In his post, Musk said nothing about Twitter’s decision to restrict and lock Ye’s account.
The billionaire can afford to remain silent for the moment as negotiations are underway, but what will he do from October 29?
Especially since a few days later, the midterm elections will be held, an event which is likely to lead to a lot of misinformation on the platform.