I’ll be honest. I don’t really have a strong opinion on the pursued Twitter purchase by outspoken tech entrepreneur, Elon Musk. But I am learning there are a whole lot more people who care a whole lot more than I do. All due respect. Always.
Note some of the recent headlines, tweets, and newscast comments…
From former US Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, in The Guardian: “Elon Musk’s vision for the internet is dangerous nonsense.”
From Washington Post columnist, Max Boot, “I am frightened by the impact on society and politics if Elon Musk acquires Twitter. He seems to believe that on social media anything goes. For democracy to survive, we need more content moderation, not less.”
And from MSNBC co-host Mika Brzezinski: “I think that the dangerous edges here are that he’s trying to undermine the media, trying to make up his own facts, and it could be that while unemployment and the economy worsens, he could have undermined the messaging so much that he can actually control exactly what people think. And that is our job.”
Interesting that much of the expressed criticism and concern comes from the fact that Musk is currently considered the richest person in the world; it’s concerning when money and public influence are so connected. (Granted, someone might want to tell Mr. Boot that the second richest person in the world is Jeff Bezos, who owns Boot’s newspaper.)
So it makes me wonder… what’s the big ado? What else is in play? Who’s afraid of the big, bad Elon Musk? Any why?
Some say it’s about power. Others say attention for Musk. Others still, suggest it’s about free speech.
Herein is where the crux of the issue lies. It then becomes an issue of potential censorship.
As the social media site currently exists, Twitter reserves the right to make tweets disappear. And not only do they reserve the right to make a specific tweet disappear, “If an account’s profile or media content is not compliant with our policies, we may make it temporarily unavailable and require that the violator edit the media or information in their profile to comply with our rules. We also explain which policy their profile or media content has violated.”
They can dismiss an entire account. They reserve the right to censor.
So let’s ask the next best question: is censorship good?
According to Britannica, censorship is “the changing or the suppression or prohibition of speech or writing that is deemed subversive of the common good.”
According to the ACLU, “censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are ‘offensive,’ happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others.”
Hence, I’m led to the next best questions…
If censorship is allowed and thus the freedom of speech is not, who gets to decide what gets censored? Who determines the definition of the common good? Who dictates what content the audience should not hear?
Who is capable of imposing their political and moral values on the rest of us?
And when they do, will they tell us their decision-making tools? Will they share with us the thorough analysis they go through in making such a decision? Will they share why they suppress what stories?
And what is their motivation? Is it politically motivated? Are they unfairly biased?
Seeing friend and foe alike, so-to-speak, be inconsistently censored on Twitter, Facebook, etc., my sense is social media attempts at censorship are unequivocally questionable. If the efforts increase — evolving into a more ardent intent to subdue the freedom of speech — that then has the potential to become a dangerous tool leveled at democracy.
But feel free to disagree. Respectfully, of course. There’s no need to be silenced.