All Twitter is atwitter over Twitter files. The right is certain that they have discovered a conspiracy to suppress constitutionally protected freedom of speech. The left believes that moderating the so-called Twitter highlights was justified. The rest of the world didn’t care.
Like Trump, Musk has found a platform where he can express his nationalism and amplify his grievances. And like Trump, he engages his savior by standing up for minorities and taking on the powerful interests that oppress them. Minority defenders are mainly people who want to be able to express their racist anger or call for social and political unrest. Musk defends their rights to be assholes so he bought the platform for way more money than it should have. And they look to their new billionaire savior, another false idol of the faithful.
To reveal the wrongdoing of the previous owners, Musk hired journalists Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss to produce Tweet storms that organized how Twitter employees suppressed the voices of ordinary activists. Taibbi admitted that Musk had placed conditions on his Tweet storm that he could not disclose. One of those situations is obviously that he and Weiss couldn’t use a platform designed for journalism and had to stick to Twitter’s 280 characters. Some cases are confidential so Musk’s exercise in transparency has transparency issues.
I don’t have the patience to go through one of those Tweet storms yet. Reading an in-depth article in 280-character chunks is overwhelming and annoying so I rely heavily on snippets and what other people have to say about it. I think Musk is resuming serializing to keep his readers coming back.
The right believes they have received a great deal of shame. Hearing this, Twitter violated their First Amendment rights and they want the American people to see how they were wronged. They are sure that people who have never spent much time on Twitter, about 70% of the world, will care.
They’re just not good either. Unless I’m missing something, Musk, Taibbi, and Weiss aren’t accusing the government of suppressing anyone’s speech. They say that the private company, Twitter, has set limits on who can say what on its platform. That may sound disgusting, but it’s also ridiculously common. Newspapers routinely reject guest op-eds and letters to the editor that they find offensive. Fox News won’t give Rachel Maddow or Jon Stewart an evening show and they probably won’t have them as guests on one of their shows like Fox and Friends because they aren’t friends.
Conservatives say Twitter is the equivalent of the modern public square. That’s not the case. Public forums are for people, not private companies. A better analogy is that Twitter is like a giant shopping mall where many shops sell ideas and opinions and the money is shares and likes. People walk around the mall talking about everything. Most of you are just ignored by the people who own the mall, but, if you start yelling “NN,N! shop police will close it. Mall cops are not police. They will not arrest you. They will just tell you to take that nonsense to Gab or Parler. Mall police are private security, like Twitter employees are paid by the site, not the government.
If the accounts start encouraging people to do harmful things to other people, those mall police will probably report them to management and management will decide whether or not to ban them. Sometimes, management may tell mall police to watch out for rioters or turn down their megaphones. Or they may bar them from entering certain parts of the mall so that fewer people hear any profanity they say.
A few people may have very big megaphones and the attention of many people who respect them. If those people start telling their followers to do things that harm people or institutions outside the mall, the mall has the right to fire them. We can argue whether it should or not, but the mall has the right to kick them out, especially if the mall police gave them a few warnings. That is not a violation of anyone’s rights. Those accounts violate company policies.
If Twitter is guilty of anything, it’s misrepresenting how much speech they would tolerate and lie, directly or indirectly, about which accounts they were censoring or restricting. They didn’t do anything illegal. They tried to intercept communications they believed were new information about COVID, vaccines, election fraud and other issues. They are trying to thwart abusive, racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic accounts. With over 330 million monthly users, they probably get it wrong sometimes.
Right-wingers are more banned than left-wingers as the right has decided to tolerate racism and bigotry in their ranks. Conservative accounts were also spreading Big Lies. That doesn’t mean Twitter was trying to help Democrats, as many conservatives complain. But if it was, that’s illegal, too.
As an article in the libertarian magazine Reason says, “As a private company, Twitter was clearly within its rights to do this, but users also have a right to be angry.” And so are conservatives. But Twitter is the latest target of their ire. They are angry at NBC, CBS, ABC, and CNN. They feel slighted by the New York Times, The Washington Post, News & Observer, Charlotte Observer, and every other mainstream media outlet in America. The only news they trust is from sites like Fox News or the Wall Street Journal whose opinion page will confirm their bias.
In buying Twitter, Musk joins billionaires like the Murdochs, the Kochs, and the Mercers who cater to the gullible half of the population and the grifters they’ve been milking. He creates more resentment for the offended. He hopes to somehow keep the many traditional reporters and posters that keep the site interesting while charging them fees to be heard. He will give you an edit button and tick $8 a month and if you don’t pay, your post will be suppressed in the algorithm. In other words, Musk’s free speech costs money.
Musk’s danger is that people flee Twitter for something else. Twitter has created a unique space that has become a place for information sharing between journalists, academics, activists, campaigners, and political leaders. It is the place of choice for the most discerning citizens. Musk is betting that they are too invested to move to another site and that Twitter is too important to the current ecosystem for them to leave. The key to his success is keeping those content providers engaged while allowing racists, xenophobes, homophobes, revolutionaries, and other misanthropes to return. If he’s got nothing but cranks and right-wing grifters, he’s got a lot less than Gab or Parler.
So far, the Twitter files haven’t revealed anything surprising or illegal, despite what Musk might write. You have just given more anger to those who are constantly victimized. His supporters come from the left and the right who fundamentally believe that the government or corporate America or someone is trying to oppress them.
In fact, Twitter executives have spent a decade trying to figure out how to manage an almost unruly platform. Perhaps it would be better if they allowed the disgusting and inflammatory speech. Maybe they did the best they could, given the circumstances. However, there is no evidence, so far, that they are doing anything illegal. As we have seen in newspapers, television, radio, and any other platform, the right wing will always be upset unless the administration presents its talking points and ideas. It’s no wonder they believe Twitter is biased against them and it’s no wonder they believe a deep-pocketed billionaire will help promote their values.
Musk’s Twitter feeds didn’t generate nearly the hype he expected and the surprises were few. He bypassed the release and produced the report in an almost unreadable format – 280-character tweets. While a few people on Twitter will get in on the action and the righteous get plenty of evidence of their oppression by the media, the rest of the country will settle down during the holidays and forget all of this explosion going on.
I suspect that Twitter is headed for a long, slow decline, not the rapid collapse that has appeared in the past few weeks. Musk will try to keep the site focused on him while other platforms work to develop alternatives. Maybe you’ll find a formula that works, but that doesn’t really sound like where you’re going. It sounds like you are creating a safe environment for bullies and uncomfortable for everyone.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before starting PoliticsNC, Mills spent 20 years as a political and public affairs consultant. Republished from PoliticsNC.com.