Anyone who had high hopes Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover would usher in sweeping change and transform the platform into an authentic digital public square for robust, freewheeling debate should have had their hopes smashed earlier this week after a series of Musk tweets outlining his plans for the newly formed Content Moderation Council (which sadly I will probably not be asked to join despite my overwhelming qualifications for the job).
In short, Musk is relying on a group of mostly left-wing activists with strong authoritarian instincts to guide Twitter’s policies on content moderation — or, as Musk put it, adopting the language of the left, “to combat hate & harassment & enforce its election integrity policies.” So much for free speech absolutism.
The very existence of the Content Moderation Council should set off alarm bells for anyone who cares about free speech on Twitter. As we all know by now, “content moderation” is a crude smokescreen employed by the left to throttle opinions and arguments they don’t like, much like “fact-checking” is dishonestly used by media outlets to do the same.
With that in mind, here are three big questions Musk should answer about his plans for free speech on Twitter.
1. Why Hasn’t Musk Fired the People Who Orchestrated the Suppression of the Hunter Biden Laptop Story?
Although Musk quickly fired top Twitter executives such as CEO Parag Agrawal and policy head Vijaya Gadde, who was one of the chief advocates for speech censorship on the platform, he kept people like Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of safety and integrity, who played a major role in the company’s suppression of information about Covid-19 and the 2020 election.
It was Roth, for example, who greenlit Twitter’s decision to ban the New York Post’s reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop ahead of the election. In May, Roth rolled out Twitter’s “crisis misinformation policy,” whereby Twitter slaps warning labels on tweets deemed to contain “misinformation” — another meaningless term that serves as a crude pretext for censorship — to prevent them from being widely seen during times of armed conflict, natural disasters, or public health emergencies. He also has a long history of nasty, hate-filled tweets, like when he referred to Trump administration officials as “actual Nazis” in 2017.
Called out by Liz Wheeler about why he hasn’t fired Roth, Musk replied, “We’ve all made some questionable tweets, me more than most, but I want to be clear that I support Yoel. My sense is that he has high integrity, and we are all entitled to our political beliefs.”
But Musk is side-stepping the question. Roth’s “questionable tweets” aren’t the main problem, it’s his zeal for censorship and his lack of integrity. After all, if Roth had any integrity, he’d publicly admit he was wrong about the Hunter Biden laptop story and offer Musk his resignation. Until Roth, at least, is fired, there’s no reason to take seriously Musk’s performative genuflections to free speech.
2. Is Musk Going to Have Even a Single Conservative on the Content Moderation Council?
As my colleague Jordan Boyd noted on Wednesday, one of the people Musk said he was consulting about content moderation is Rashad Robinson, a left-wing activist who is president of a group called Color of Change but is perhaps best known for his bizarre support for serial fabulist Jussie Smollett — even after it became clear that Smollett had lied about being attacked.
That a Jussie Smollett hoaxer is among the “civil society leaders” Musk is talking to about content moderation is obviously a problem. But the bigger problem is that Musk didn’t list a single conservative group or individual alongside the left-wing activists he’s talking to. (And I’m sorry, but if Musk thinks the George W. Bush Presidential Center represents the conservative or even right-of-center viewpoint in his discussions about content moderation, he’s sorely mistaken.)
Musk could easily alleviate these concerns, at least somewhat, by meeting with one or two individuals or organizations that either supported Donald Trump or support the MAGA agenda broadly speaking. That would show something more than lip service is behind Musk’s professions about protecting free speech on Twitter. Because those on the right are most likely to have been affected by Twitter’s past censorship (including yours truly), it stands to reason that they deserve a seat at the table — at least as much as people like Robinson or Roth do.
One more thing on this question. Twitter has in the past gone out of its way to ban or lock accounts at the behest of the trans lobby. Offenses like “misgendering” or “deadnaming” someone can get a person banned from the platform. But there’s a real difference of agreement on this subject. It’s not simply a case that conservatives or those on the right are bigots who hate trans people. It’s that we think trans people are suffering under a delusion that they are or can become members of the opposite sex, and that affirming them in that delusion is far more cruel than calling it out. Most people with traditional religious beliefs hold this view, even if they dare not express it on Twitter for fear of being banned.
If Musk wants Twitter to embrace free speech, he’ll get rid of the perniciously biased rules about “misgendering” and “deadnaming” and allow people to express their views on a serious and nuanced matter of public concern.
3. Will Twitter Keep Coordinating with DHS to Censor Twitter Users and Manipulate Public Opinion?
This one comes from Auron MacIntyre, who on Wednesday tweeted out what anyone who read the recent article in The Intercept chronicling the close coordination between the Department of Homeland Security and Big Tech firms, including Twitter, must be wondering about Twitter’s future under Musk’s ownership. Will Twitter continue meeting with DHS to coordinate the suppression of ideas and political opinions the regime deems to be dangerous and inaccurate?
I wrote about The Intercept’s report earlier this week and its implications, which are massive. Twitter’s cooperation with federal law enforcement agencies operating under the obvious pretext of stopping “misinformation” is perhaps the No. 1 problem Musk needs to fix.
If he does nothing else to make Twitter better, he should at least stop allowing federal law enforcement agencies, whose original mandate was to protect us from terrorist plots, to use the platform to suppress speech. It’s as much a violation of Americans’ First Amendment rights as if DHS itself were locking Twitter accounts directly, and it needs to stop now.
If Musk can’t give candid answers to these three simple but important questions, he’s not serious about restoring free speech on Twitter, and conservatives and others on the right should understand that moving forward.