It’s been a wild week for free speech; or free-speech-control, at least. That’s because while most Americans don’t care about Twitter, our society’s broader social media habits (and their frequent exaggerations) means that control of it still matters a great deal.
How? Aside from its fun and investigative uses, Twitter is where much of corporate media messaging is crafted and honed; where thoughts and ideas that deviate from the ruling class are suppressed; and where left-wing cancel mobs are empowered, and thereby able to lead America’s business and political elites along by the nose.
The coming days, weeks and months will give a clearer idea of what’s coming, but far from spectators, we are all players in the drama. While all eyes are on Elon Musk, Twitter’s employees, the federal government, and the American entrepreneur all have a role to play.
Let’s start with Musk.
While Musk’s generally pro-Bill of Rights, anti-censorship, and anti-technocrat musings have gone on for some time, his Monday announcement gave the clearest sign yet of good things to come. After restating his commitment to holding his now-private company to the Bill of Rights, the Tesla billionaire proposed a number of policy changes, including “defeating the spam bots… authenticating all humans,” and “making the algorithms open source to increase trust.”
The first two are important steps: If successful, these changes will make the service far more usable, tame bot-driven mobs, and finally and permanently deflate the censors’ favorite “Russian bots” bogeyman (as well as future bot-boogeymen to come).
Publicizing algorithms, however, is essential. Silicon Valley’s algorithms have achieved near-mythic status within the censorship regime, catching fact and fiction, journalists and politicians, Christians and activists, scientists and concerned parents alike in their nets.
The ensuing censorship, observers note, leans heavily toward viewpoints that dissent from the left-wing narrative, but each time a censorship decision turns out to be indefensible, the blame is placed on “the algorithm” — with zero insight or accountability offered.
The result: A censorship bureau where the means, methods, culprits, and officers are all protected from public scrutiny. Musk wants to change this. If he does, he’ll expose other companies’ algorithm excuses as the lies they are — and drive a stake into the beating heart of regime suppression.
What he can accomplish, however, will depend on how much time he can commit, who he puts in charge of daily operations, and who he fires. The obvious fact is the man has commitments elsewhere. His time is currently split between SpaceX, Neuralink, The Boring Company, and Tesla, which lacks a COO while it’s fighting well-funded marketplace competition.
True, the richest man in the world has thus far impressed (and thus far, gone undefeated), but the Twitter fight poses a real challenge. Far from welcoming their new owner, employee meltdowns have made headlines since Musk announced his initial stake in the company.
Based on what we’ve seen, he can’t rely on unsupervised cooperation with his plans. That makes the person he chooses to execute his vision all the more essential.
While too many American companies cave to activist employees’ choruses of execration — and threats of mass resignation — Musk shows zero sign of following suit. On the contrary, their immolations will serve as a signing bonus, removing the most fanatical opponents of his vision for the company’s future.
Given the seemingly staff-wide meltdown, however, he’ll need more than this in a manager; and former CEO Jack Dorsey — who seems pleased with the buyout and is rumored to be returning — is unlikely to cut it.
Although Dorsey is more pro-speech than the current CEO (and is a friend of Musk), he’s proven himself a weak manager, who will struggle greatly to rein in the company he founded. Musk’s plans are going to take both serious hiring and serious firings, and few believe Dorsey has what it will take to return freedom of expression to Twitter.
As presidents from Adams through Trump have learned, personnel is policy: Weak generals will fail, no matter their devotion; and bad actors will smile in your face, and work to undermine your goals when you turn away. Musk is certainly aware of this, but given the demands on his attention, his top hires will make or break his plans.
His employees, however, are not the only force interested in derailing free-speech Twitter.
Shortly after learning they were losing a reliable censorship partner through Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, the White House repeated its interest in regulating Silicon Valley in order to police “misinformation.”
While it’s hard to say where bipartisan efforts to rein in Silicon Valley will ultimately go, it’s easy to see how essential Twitter has made itself to the White House and its friends. From promoting helpful content to suppressing damaging content, Big Tech has done its best to apologize for its part in the election of President Donald Trump (and make sure nothing like it happens again).
While the sale seems to be moving along despite the skeptical murmurings of most observers, it’s still important to measure any optimism. The Federal Trade Commission, for example, will have a say; and while it takes a serious feat of logic to understand how owning a rocket company, an electric car company, and a free speech company represents a threat to competition, the threat that Musk freeing Twitter poses to the regime might prove too tempting a motivation to let pass.
It’s wild to see, either way: the ruling class reaction to a billionaire they don’t like dethroning a billionaire they do. But while it can be disheartening to so plainly see just how oligarchic the United States has become, it’s crucial to remember that we still have a role: The billionaires won’t solve our problems on their own.
The American Entrepreneur
Elon Musk appears poised to do the American people a great service, but the reality is Elon Musk isn’t going to save us. The reason: While Twitter is a powerful tool for our ruling class — and an important battle to wage — it’s just one of many fights, even on the tech front.
Consider the following, for example: Twitter runs on Amazon Web Services (AWS). AWS is the cloud company that would-be Twitter competitor Parler ran on too — before AWS cut Parler off from its servers on completely false pretenses, virtually destroying the company at the moment of its most meteoric growth.
Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, is a fierce critic of Musk, and on Monday, AWS’s “head of community engagement” tweeted an offer to those Twitter employees who refused to work for a pro-First Amendment company: “We’re hiring.”
Each battle, you see, leads to the next. Social media censorship is just that part of the iceberg visible to passing ships. Beneath the surface, the left is threatening access to banks, loans, servers, investment, search and email services, office and payroll management — the list goes on.
Fighting this will take smart ideas, hard work, and an entrepreneur’s will to resist incredible pressure on every aspect of his life. But if those who can help don’t work to get our own house in order, we’re just trading one oligarch for a smarter, more freedom-interested one. More than that, we won’t win.
It’s great to have the richest man in the world on the side of freedom. We need the help; but the cause of freedom needs us too.
Disclosure: Christopher Bedford is a founding partner of the all-service, free-speech internet company RightForge.