"Be Afraid, Be Actually Afraid": Reporters Panic At The Thought Of Twitter Restoring Free Speech Protections

 

"Be Afraid, Be Actually Afraid": Reporters Panic At The Thought Of Twitter Restoring Free Speech Protections

Authored by Jonathan Turley,

“Be afraid, be actually afraid.”

Those words from former Politico Magazine editor Garrett M. Graff captures the hyperventilation in the media week. No it is not Vladimir Putin’s threat of unleashing a nuclear war or the word that our national debt has reached a staggering $31 trillion. No, it is the news that Elon Musk may go forward with the purchase of Twitter and . . . [triggering warning] . . . free speech protections might be restored on the platform. The pearl-clutching of various media and academic figures show how engrained the censorship culture has become in the United States.

After Musk indicated that he was going forward, the Twitter stock quickly soared. The news that Musk might bring an end to Twitter’s extensive censorship system has previously drawn people back to the platform. However, the media is in full panic mode that the control over speech could be loosened with Musk. Twitter employees also previously panicked at the thought that they might lose some of their control over the speech of others.

NBC News reporter Ben Collins wrote quickly raises the most immediate concern that the sudden ability to speak freely on Twitter could impact the midterm elections.

Consider that for a second: the loss of control over political speech could mean a loss of control over the midterm elections. 

There is, of course, no concern by Collins that Twitter (and other social media companies) have long been “aligned” with Democrats and the Biden Administration.

NPR editor Neela Banerjee retweeted and echoed his concern about “the broader implications for the rest of us of a Musk takeover of Twitter.” 

Others joined in on the collective panic that there could be a loss of control over what people say on social media.

BBC journalist Dickens Olewe warned that “Guardrails will be dropped, misinfo & conspiracy theories will thrive. No functional alternatives available, this is it: a complete destruction of the global public square. Been nice y’all.”  In other words, free speech protections will lead to the destruction of “the global public square” by losing control of who can speak or what people can say.

PoliticusUSA head Sarah Reese Jones seemed to move from the desperate to the outright delusional: “Before 2020, Facebook deplatformed progressives, then it came for mainstream media and elevated only radicalized conservatives. Cut to 2022, we know Elon Musk plans to do same with Twitter. We know how damaging it will be.Tech giants pose ongoing threat to western democracy.”

That’s right, social media companies have been favoring conservatives and targeting progressives. That is why a wide array of conservative groups and figures have been banned or suspended. That is why the Hunter Biden laptop was buried before the election. That is why there are now numerous reports of backchannels with the government in censoring opposing views.

Euronews correspondent Shona Murray tweeted, “The end of Twitter as we know it is nigh.”

I certainly hope so. 

However, it may be a case of “your Twitter is dead, long live Twitter.” 

As discussed earlier, the Internet was once the greatest single advance in free speech since the printing press.

The one thing that we agree on is that this could be a historic moment and free speech could be returning to a major platform of social media. The company seemingly wrote off free speech years ago. Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal was asked how Twitter would balance its efforts to combat misinformation with wanting to “protect free speech as a core value” and to respect the First Amendment. He responded dismissively that the company is “not to be bound by the First Amendment” and will regulate content as “reflective of things that we believe lead to a healthier public conversation.” Agrawal said the company would “focus less on thinking about free speech” because “speech is easy on the internet. Most people can speak. Where our role is particularly emphasized is who can be heard.”

I have written about five steps that Musk can take to restore free speech.

However, the key is to break a culture of censorship at the company. If Musk moves out of San Francisco, it may help in that restructuring in replacing staff with those committed to free speech values. However, the key to restoring these values is to adopt what I have called the “first amendment model” for the company.

The question is whether Musk will continue to hold the courage to follow his stated convictions on free speech.  I hope so. If so, the many censorship advocates in the media certainly do have reason to fear that free speech could be return to a major social media company.

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