NY Times: Elon Musk seems to believe in free speech and that's going to be a disaster (Update)

Damian Dovarganes

As Ed had already pointed out once this morning, the ongoing freakout of Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter is turning out to be a very revealing experience. Suddenly MSNBC hosts are worried about viewpoint discrimination, as if that possibility has never occurred to them before.


Meanwhile, the NY Times published a piece today which all but promises Musk’s view of free speech will lead to failure. It’s titled “Buying Twitter, Elon Musk Will Face Reality of His Free-Speech Talk” and the gist is that the reality of free speech is going to be a disaster.

The past 10 years have seen repeated confrontations between the high-minded principles of Silicon Valley’s founding generation of social media companies and the messy reality of a world in which “free speech” means different things to different people. And now Elon Musk, who on Monday struck a deal to buy Twitter for roughly $44 billion, wades directly into that fraught history…

Mr. Musk is a relative dilettante on the topic and hasn’t yet tackled the difficult trade-offs in which giving one person a voice may silence the expression of others, and in which an almost-anything-goes space for expression might be overrun with spam, nudity, propaganda from autocrats, the bullying of children and violent incitements…

If Twitter wants to pull back from moderating speech on its site, will people be less willing to hang out where they might be harassed by those who disagree with them and swamped by pitches for cryptocurrency, fake Gucci handbags or pornography?

The author has brought up spam twice but never mentions that Musk has already said his first goal with Twitter will be to rid the place of bots, such as the ones that spam you with cryptocurrency solicitations.


Granted, it remains to be seen if he can achieve that or if he will in fact die trying. I’m not suggesting you have to take Musk’s word for it. But if you’re going to raise the issue twice in your piece shouldn’t you at least mention that ridding the site of such things is high on Musk’s agenda? But the author doesn’t do that, likely because she doesn’t want to admit the possibility that, in some ways, Twitter might actually improve under Musk. And then the piece goes from bad to worse in the very next paragraph.

The 2016 U.S. presidential election and the Brexit vote that same year gave Silicon Valley executives, U.S. elected officials and the public a peek into what can go wrong when social media companies opt not to wade too deeply into what people say on their sites. Russian propagandists amplified the views of deeply divided Americans and Britons, further polarizing the electorate.

It’s true that Russian propagandists put up some memes on Facebook in 2016. It’s also true those efforts bordered on insignificant compared to the massive amounts of money and effort spent by the two campaigns and outside groups that year. As Nate Silver pointed out, this same paragraph has other problems including that it failed to mention the much more significant role of major media outlets like CNN.


So it’s pretty clear that the author thinks too much free speech is the main danger here, which is an odd position for a news outlet to take but sadly not an odd position for a progressive these days.

Regular readers know I often dive into the comments on these articles and, surprisingly, they are often more thoughtful than the articles themselves. But not in this case. The top comment (as voted by readers) is this one.

This only proves that taxes on billionaires need to go much higher or democracy may be ended in the next decade. Musk is worth $240 billion according to estimates and there is no evidence thst he helped any family that has struggled with Covid or any group that is currently suffering. So in the future if Musk is worth a trillion dollars will Congress ever tax the wealthy in a more equitable way so that society benefits. Musk has paid less then 7 of his existing wealth in taxation. If he is worth $240 billion there is no evidence he has paid 18 billion in taxes. Is this the aim of Congress not to fight over the taxation of billionaires. The Walmart grand children who are anti union are worth close to $250 billion and hardly have paid any taxes . Bezos , Gates , and many other of the wealthy have and will simply form foundations and escape taxation. A new law should be made placing a one time tax on all foundations of 50% . No one should be able to escape taxation especially the billionaires.


Is that you Elizabeth Warren? This idea of forcing people to realize gains solely so they can pay them to the government is a bad idea. I doubt this person is aware that even collecting 100% of the wealth of all the billionaires in America would barely make a dent in our national debt. And the #2 comment, from a reader in San Francisco, isn’t any better.

No one should have the amount of wealth to be able to purchase a multinational corporation on a whim.

Is that you AOC? I guess the point is that free speech allows for all sorts of people to say dopey, misleading things and if the NY Times can survive with commenters like these, Twitter can probably survive as well.

Update: Musk sums it up.

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