More On: Twitter
Censorship advocates are suddenly concerned about 'private sector' freedom now that their control over the conduits of conversation is endangered.
The "private business" or "create your own internet" justification for Big Tech censorship has always been a sham, and the uproar over Elon Musk's offer to buy Twitter (turning the platform into a true private firm) makes it clearer than ever.
The Tesla and SpaceX CEO, who earlier this month became Twitter's largest shareholder after purchasing 9.2 percent of the company's stock, addressed a letter to Twitter on Wednesday night offering to acquire the rest of the company's stock for $54.20 per share in cash.
When Big Tech companies like Twitter have previously censored users or content that contradicts their agendas — see, for example, the New York Post's Hunter Biden's laptop bombshell, the 45th president of the United States, reporting on the crisis at the US southern border, an obituary of a mother who reportedly died from Covid shot complications, members of Congress, investigative reporting on abortion, summaries of court decisions about election law, and a Federalist editor who said "Because the First Amendment doesn't control private enterprises, they may silence whoever the hell they want," a slew of censorship zealots invariably argue.
Max Boot, a Washington Post columnist, presents a textbook example, as he usually does in similar situations.
Boot defended Twitter's "private-sector" right to censor the story after the New York Post published bombshell reporting about a compromising laptop belonging to then-presidential candidate Joe Biden's son Hunter — a laptop that, more than a year later, The New York Times and Boot's own employer have admitted is legit —
"Facebook and Twitter are private-sector enterprises with no duty to spread potential Russian disinformation." That is not the same as censorship. In October 2020, Boot stated, "It's editorial judgment, and it's something we need more of online." "I believe in free speech, but the First Amendment does not require businesses to disseminate Russian — or Republican — misinformation."
Boot is singing a different tune now that Musk has volunteered to buy Twitter and turn it into a truly private corporation. "If Elon Musk buys Twitter, I'm terrified about the ramifications for society and politics." On social media, he seems to feel that anything goes," Boot sobbed on Thursday morning. "We need more content regulation, not less, for democracy to thrive."
What was that about private-sector enterprises having the ability to do anything they want?
Brian Stelter of CNN had a similarly phony change of heart. "The [Trump] White House is expected to up its pressure on Twitter in the coming days, and is considering sending a threatening letter for issuing fact checks on the president's tweets," Stelter speculated in response to news that "the [Trump] White House is expected to up its pressure on Twitter in the coming days, and is considering sending a threatening letter for issuing fact checks on the president's tweets" in May 2020, Stelter pondered, "A letter threatening... Twitter is a privately held corporation."
Stelter was suddenly concerned about Twitter's power on Thursday morning, retweeting the viewpoint that "Twitter is too significant to be owned and controlled by a single person." It should be the other way around. As a protocol that enables an ecosystem of communication products and services, Twitter should be decentralized."
"Twitter, a private platform, has the constitutional authority to restrict or moderate expression on its platform," Salon writer Matthew Rozsa said in 2020. When Twitter banned and "fact-checked" Trump, it was Trump who attacked the First Amendment, Rozsa asserted, adding that "even if Twitter was factually incorrect," it was alright because "it is still a private firm."
"Elon Musk's attempted takeover of Twitter is a menace to the free world," Rozsa declared on Thursday morning.
He also expressed concern that if Musk gained control of Twitter and made the private-sector decision to reinstate former President Trump, "it would be a death blow to the free world."
In a not-at-all prejudiced piece titled "How to deprogram America's extremists," corporate news outlet Axios rejoiced that "Online platforms... must be unwavering in their resolve to ferret out conspiracy theories and lies that weaken faith in democracy, according to experts interviewed by Axios." According to Axios, Twitter's unbalanced censorship is simply "a private firm attempting to enforce its rules."
Musk's offer to buy Twitter has been dubbed a "supervillain" move by Axios.
"Private corporations choosing not to post falsehoods, hate speech, and abuse on their platforms isn't censorship," MSNBC analyst Anand Giridharadas stated just a week ago. "For the ten millionth time," says the narrator.
Thursday morning, he was suggesting Elon Musk is an “invader.”
City University of New York journalism professor Jeff Jarvis bemoaned Musk’s offer to purchase Twitter with the dramatic remark that “Today on Twitter feels like the last evening in a Berlin nightclub at the twilight of Weimar Germany.”
But less than a year ago, he emphatically endorsed the idea that “a private company hosting you can decide to flex its own ideas, and say ‘we don’t want to support that nonsense.’ That’s their expression.”
Whether or whether Musk's offer is accepted (or even offered in good faith), it has highlighted the absurdity of the "build your own speech platform" argument yet again. Freedom of expression was never actually desired by these folks. When censorship in the name of "private-sector freedom" helped muzzle their opponents, they were all for it.
However, now that their control over the channels of communication is under threat, they've exposed that their screams of "restriction is great, because freedom" were really a pretense to obtain more power. Who knows if Musk will buy Twitter or even if he wants to. We'll have to wait and see. What we do know is that the proponents of "private enterprise can do whatever it wants" are enraged at the prospect of a private company doing anything they don't agree with.