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Can Elon Musk Save Free Speech On The Internet?


“handsome/brilliant.” These two adjectives — or pronouns, as newly-minted documentary star Matt Walsh would say — remained pasted atop former Twitter CEO Elon Musk’s profile in the days following the free release of the Daily Wire’s production “What is a Woman” on the platform in June.

Twitter subsequently flagged and restricted Daily Wire’s tweet for hateful speech and misgendering, prior to Musk notoriously vetoing the jurisdiction and reposting the tweet in a viral thread for his 140 million followers. A league of employees — from high-profile executives to allied staffers —  resigned shortly thereafter, citing irreconcilable values with their boss.

Controversy aside, Musk launched a lengthy experiment to rebrand Twitter as the stage for free speech when he bought the company last year. In doing so, he not only assumed the roles of owner and CEO, but ultimately stepped into the shoes of a more transcendent figure as well: Elon Musk, the (ugly) face of democracy.

A quick glance in the rearview mirror may clearly outline the battle Musk is trying to fight. Undoubtedly, we have experienced a widening schism in this country. Those championing traditional — but increasingly outdated — values have turned sour in the face of a new set of ideals, driven by a suffocating sense of moral superiority.

Grounds for healthy debate are necessary and, as we know, are rooted squarely in our nation’s founding. As social media evolved into the leading forum for such dialogue, C-suite executives (think Mark Zuckerberg) have thereby been bestowed with the power to share and withhold viewpoints.

The Biden administration knows that. During the COVID pandemic, the White House directly contacted Facebook and Twitter to reduce vaccine misinformation. In an email released as part of last year’s government censorship civil cases, a Meta executive confirmed that the company met [the federal government] “to better understand the scope of what the White House expects” and that they have taken steps to “adjust policies on what we are removing with respect to misinformation. These conversations are notably in response to President Biden’s curt remark that Facebook and Twitter are “killing people” with their supposed lax moderation — at the time at least. A marriage between social media and the White House joins the two most influential entities, forming an alarming monopoly over public opinion.

Musk’s foray to restore free speech began with noble intentions, but has since reared its ugly head. Prior to taking the helm at Twitter, Musk tweeted that he “hope[s] that even [his] worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means.” Musk exercised his power to disband the Trust and Safety Council, under the premise that he would form a new “content moderation council.” In an attempt to promote his vision for free speech, Musk invited back a series of previously banned accounts — most notably several alt-right accounts — much to the chagrin of many users. From unbanning former President Trump to publicly supporting a flagged documentary, Musk continued his free speech experiment throughout his tumultuous tenure as CEO.

We hear Twitter is nothing of the company it used to be. Entire divisions gone! What is left now resembles more of a Hunger Games than Olympic Games! Twitter hopes to utilize machine learning to replace many of their lost workers.

However, many fear the technology platform now faces greater operational requirements than Musk accepts. As a result, technical breakdowns might become inevitable? Will we see more error messages going forward?

Certainly, offering a microphone to the select few with malicious intent is harmful and should be condemned and moderated. However, many other contentious voices are not quite being heard in a society that now clings so dearly to the newfound status quo. We do need a forum to discuss vaccine pros and cons, or revisit the principles being taught to our children. In the same way we have the Huffington Post, we need the Daily Caller; diversity of belief is fundamental to progress.

Like Matt Walsh is confused — what is a woman? — perhaps Musk and many others are too. What even is free speech nowadays, anyway?

Alexander Fleiss is the CEO of think tank Rebellion Research and has taught Artificial Intelligence at Cornell, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, NYU, Amherst College, MIT and has 18 academic research publications.

Avhan Misra is a quantitative researcher at Rebellion Research & a Bachelor’s in Computer Science major at Cornell University.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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