Science & Tech

7 times Elon Musk definitely cared about ‘free speech absolutism’ as Twitter CEO

7 times Elon Musk definitely cared about ‘free speech absolutism’ as Twitter CEO
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Twitter CEO and Tesla founder Elon Musk is one of those people who claim to really care about free speech.

Back in November, just days after successfully buying out the social media network, Musk stressed his “commitment to free speech” as the platform’s new owner.

So committed is the tech entrepreneur to free speech, of course, that Musk has made several decisions which undermine that completely.

Let’s round them up.

1. The Substack drama

This is the most recent incident surrounding Musk’s crisis-stricken Twitter and one which saw the businessman branded “petty” for the actions he took.

Earlier this week, the newsletter platform Substack unveiled a new feature titled ‘Notes’, which allows writers to “post short-form content and share ideas with each other and their readers”.

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It sure looks like a standard social media feed, but the company’s seemingly aware of that, writing in an announcement post: “While Notes may look like familiar social media feeds, the key difference is in what you don’t see. The Substack network runs on paid subscriptions, not ads. This changes everything.”

And Musk wasn’t happy, as after this was announced on Wednesday. Thursday then saw Substack acknowledge that Twitter authentication and embeds stopped working on their platform.

Links to Substack on Twitter would be marked ‘unsafe’, and if you search for ‘Substack’ on Twitter, you’ll get results instead for the word ‘newsletter’.

On Friday, the company’s founders said in a statement: “Any platform that benefits from writers’ and creators’ work but doesn’t give them control over their relationships will inevitably wonder how to respond to the platforms that do.”

A day after this, Musk responded to one Twitter user to claim links to the newsletter site “were never blocked”, and by Sunday, Substack confirmed in a new statement that "suppression of Substack publications" on the platform "appears to be over.

2. Blocking links to rival social media platform, Mastodon

In the earlier days of Musk’s Twitter chaos, people were considering flocking to another social media site known as Mastodon, which is decentralised and not under the control of one bitter businessman.

Musk, of course, didn’t like the sound of that, and conveniently for him, it became impossible in November to tweet out links to Mastodon.

One month later, and Twitter announced – before soon revoking – a policy whereby the “free promotion” of other social media platforms could get your account suspended.

And if Musk wasn’t shutting down opportunities to promote other platforms, then he was suspending individual accounts…

3. Banning an account that tracked his private jet using public information

Also in December, it was reported Twitter had suspended the account @ElonJet, a profile that was using publicly available information to share flight information about Musk’s private jet.

This was despite other jet-tracking accounts such as CelebJets and RUOligarchJets, which tracks Russian oligarch's jets, not receiving a Twitter ban.

How oddly specific.

Providing further clarification to the issue, Musk tweeted on 15 December: “Any account doxxing real-time location info of anyone will be suspended, as it is a physical safety violation. This includes posting links to sites with real-time location info.”

So petty was Musk that people were genuinely wondering if the NORAD Santa tracker would be suspended under this policy.

Eventually, the account returned with a 24-hour delay, but not before things got worse.

4. Banning journalists who wrote stories about him and ‘ElonJet’

Journalists from outlets such as CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post were banned – again, in December – from the platform over articles about ElonJet, with Musk confirming in one tweet at the time that the accounts “posted my exact real-time location, basically assassination coordinates, in (obvious) direct violation of Twitter terms of service”.

As The Washington Postpointed out in its statement responding to the banning of tech reporter Drew Harwell, the suspension “undermines Elon Musk’s claim that he intends to run Twitter as a platform dedicated to free speech”.

Musk later reinstated the journalists’ suspended accounts after conducting a Twitter poll asking users if he should reverse his decision.

5. Removing Twitter Spaces because it was used to hold him accountable

But that wasn’t before the aforementioned Mr Harwell from The Washington Post was able to ask Musk about his suspension directly, thanks to a bug that meant he could speak to the Twitter owner on a Twitter Space hosted by BuzzFeed journalist Katie Notopoulos.

Except the Tesla founder wasn’t too keen on being held accountable for his actions, and so quickly said “you doxx, you get suspended, end of the story, that’s it” before dropping out of the Space altogether.

So embarrassed was Musk by the confrontation that he also went one further, and the Twitter Spaces feature itself went offline temporarily.

Yay, free speech absolutism!

6. Reportedly firing employees who gave him bad news

Any competent business leader will tell you that the ability to have open, honest and difficult conversations with colleagues about the operation of the business is kind of key to making sure the company is a success.

Well, according to a report by the tech newsletter Platformer in February, when a meeting saw company employees point out to Musk that there was declining interest in him online, the entrepreneur allegedly made the completely rational and sensible decision to fire one of his two remaining principal engineers.

Completely normal behaviour.

7. Going after US news organisations he doesn’t like

Back to something a bit more recent to finish and Musk has made it pretty clear that he really doesn’t like The New York Times and NPR.

Amid the ongoing confusion over what exactly will happen to blue tick ‘verification’ on Twitter, when Musk learned the New York Times wasn’t going to cough up and pay for a ‘verified’ badge on the platform, the CEO did what any reasonable person would do, and remove their current badge altogether.

And so, while other high profile accounts still have a ‘legacy’ blue tick to – sort of – indicate that they’re the real deal (even though anyone can now pay Twitter to get a blue badge), there’s nothing on The New York Times’s official Twitter account to denote that they are the actual account for news organisation on the platform.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Musk decided to add a label to NPR to denote that it is “state-affiliated media” – when it very much isn’t.

Since it was founded more than 50 years ago, NPR has continued to assert editorial independence from any government agency, and it says less than one per cent of its annual operating budget comes from grants awarded by federal agencies.

According to Twitter’s own rules, “state-affiliated media” are “outlets where the state exercises control over editorial content through financial resources, direct or indirect political pressures, and/or control over production and distribution”.

A prime example of this is RT or Russia Today, which absolutely has links to the Kremlin, and China’s Xinhua News.

Because belittling and silencing those entitled to scrutinise you as part of their work is truly in the spirit of free speech, eh, Elon?

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