Elon Musk Is Finding Out That Free Speech Isn’t Rocket Science

“This is a battle for the future of civilization. If freedom of speech is lost even in America, autocracy lies ahead.”

So, Twitter’s billionaire owner Elon Musk is, to this day, still a place for politically obsessed people to debate polarizing topics like gender therapy, school vouchers, and policy. Covid-19. Musk has indicated that he wants to relax the platform’s rules around what people can and can’t say there — but doesn’t want to make it a “free hell for all.”

Looking to balance those two impulses, it seems Musk is doing just that as he continues. He has said that Twitter users should “be able to speak freely within the limits of the law,” but Twitter can also temporarily suspend someone from tweeting. “something that is illegal or otherwise wrecks the world” and delete the offending tweet or make it “hidden”.

Even to those who closely follow the free speech debates surrounding internet technology, it’s all quite confusing.

“If anyone can understand what he is thinking, I would love to hear it,” said Corbin Barthold, appellate attorney for Tech Freedom, a nonpartisan think tank. “He seemed to move from autocracy to free speech until he decided he didn’t like something.”

Trevor Timm, co-founder and chief executive officer of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, called Musk a “huge hypocrite” who is abusing the term “free speech”.

Timm also worries about how Musk will behave when authoritarian countries like China, where Tesla has huge business interests, rely on Twitter to crack down on dissidents or journalists on the internet. their background.

Judging from his tweets – including, most recently, an image of Pepe the Frog, unofficial mascot of surrogacy – Musk appears to be consumed by previous enforcement of company policies on accounts such as those of Donald Trump, Kanye West, and Milo Yiannopoulos, whose tweets violated violate Twitter’s rules on hate speech and, in the former president’s case, incitement to violence.

Mass recovery of suspended Twitter accounts has begun. On Monday, Casey Newton and Zoe Schiffer report that Twitter has begun restoring “about 62,000 accounts with over 10,000 followers.” The list includes “one account with more than five million followers and 75 accounts with more than one million followers,” they added.

Musk also urged his followers to vote Republican in the midterm elections and said he would support Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida if he ran for president in 2024.

In doing so, Musk allied himself with a politician – DeSantis – who went after his own company. And he’s setting himself on a path of potential conflict with other tech companies at a time when impending Supreme Court rulings could destroy or at least fundamentally change operations. his business.

Legally, Twitter restricting what users can say on its platform is very different from what governments can do about police speech.

As Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Language, Privacy, and Technology Project, placed it, if Musk “decides tomorrow that any speech critical of Tesla will be banned on Twitter, he has every right to do so.” (Musk is an ACLU donor, by the way.)

A lot of the speeches on social media platforms like Twitter are of the kind that Daphne Keller, a Stanford scholar who was formerly a senior attorney at Google, calls “legal but terrible.” She defines it as “word that is morally offensive or disgusting to many people but protected by the First Amendment.”

But as Musk is learning, the First Amendment cannot force advertisers or business partners to agree to work with you when you change the rules in a way they don’t like.

Musk loosens Twitter’s censorship policies threatened to clash with Applepreviously launched apps from its online store due to safety concerns. It suspends Parlera popular far-right Twitter clone, following the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

When CBS News recently asked Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, Can the company do the same with Twitter?he said he didn’t expect that to happen because Twitter has promised to continue censoring harmful content.

“I don’t think anyone wants hate speech on their platform, so I trust they will continue to do that,” Cook said. However, judging from his body language, he doesn’t seem particularly confident in that assessment.

On Monday, Musk declare that “Apple has also threatened to withhold Twitter from its App Store, but won’t tell us why.”

He didn’t offer any evidence for that claim, but DeSantis warned that if Apple removed Twitter from the App Store, “it would be a huge mistake, and it would be a really gross behavior by the company.” monopoly power that I think would be deserved. a response from the United States Congress.”

That is unlikely; Congress is hopelessly divided over how to regulate social media companies, with little in common between the two. But now that Republicans will take control of the House next year, they can hold hearings and at least make noise.

If there’s little prospect that Congress can do much – beyond appeals – to change the way platforms like Twitter handle issues of speech, that’s not true for the Supreme Court.

Four cases have been brought before the court or will soon be brought up and, as Keller noted in an interview, “that could make everything we think we know about our legal obligations. the platforms become chaotic.”

Tech companies are on opposing sides with DeSantis on Florida’s law, known as SB 7072, which prohibits social media companies from deleting the accounts of any “journalism business” or political candidate . It is on pause, as per federal order supported by 11th Circuit.

When signing that lawDeSantis dealt a blow to the “Silicon Valley elites,” whom he compared to the tyrants of Cuba and Venezuela.

A similar law in Texas was upheld by a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit but is now also frozen. “We oppose the platforms’ attempt to remove free censorship right out of the Constitution’s guarantee of free speech,” Written Judge Andrew Oldham, who was appointed by Trump. “Platforms are not journalism. Their censorship is not verbal.”

When there are divisions in the lower courts, the Supreme Court often intervenes. Florida appealed to Judge Clarence Thomas, who oversaw District 11, sympathetic to taking the case.

Normally, most legal experts would argue that the Supreme Court would overturn both laws as an illegal attempt to infringe on a private company’s free speech privileges. Lower courts have repeatedly rejected dozens of similar attempts to do so. But Thomas possible allies in Justices Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alitoand possibly others, in maintaining them in at least some respects.

The question may revolve around whether the court views social media platforms more like newspapers or more like radio and television stations. In 1974, The Supreme Court ruled that a newspaper cannot be forced to publish responses to one of its editorials. But the court also ruled that cable companies may be required to carry out local broadcast channels. Tech companies point to a different decision, Reno sues ACLUdetermined that internet platforms are technologically distinct enough that they should be regulated differently.

In an amicus brief opposing the Florida law, Tech Freedom, the consulting organization, called it “a First Amendment train wreck.” If it is maintained, Barthold of the team added in our interview, “It would be a huge burden on the platform. I don’t think Elon Musk will be happy with it.”

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two other possible cases involving whether tech companies could be held liable when their recommendation algorithms suggested horrible recruitment videos. Father. Twitter is a party to one of them, and submit a brief answer argued that upholding the Ninth Circuit ruling would be “harmful.”

Depending on how the court rules in those two cases, it could radically change Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a 26-word provision of the 1996 law that prevents internet platforms from being hacked. deemed “publisher or spokesperson for any information provided by another information content provider.”

“When it comes to those cases,” says Keller, “it is very difficult to determine what the judges will do. “It crosses political divisions in a way that the Texas and Florida cases do not.”

Chris Marchese, an attorney for NetChoice, an industry group that is a plaintiff in lawsuits in Texas and Florida, said there’s been no sign of Twitter withdrawing its support since Musk took over.

But there’s also no indication that any legal threat to his business is in Musk’s sights. apart from a cursory reference in the leaked meeting notes with his “very knowledgeable” look about media law.

“If Elon Musk really cared about free speech,” said Timm, “he would call his new friend Ron DeSantis and ask him to stop attacking Section 230.”

  • Kevin McCarthy, vying to be speaker in the Republican House of Representatives, rejecting Nick Fuentes and his ideology, but refused to criticize Donald Trump for meeting him. Catie Edmondson has the details.

  • Meanwhile, Jews support Trump Jonathan Weisman reports that those who have overlooked the former president’s admirers in the obstinate corners of the far right, and his own use of anti-Semitic jokes, are now drawing a line.

  • One same-sex marriage bill passed the Senate after a bipartisan breakthrough, Annie Karni reported. The vote will send the legislation back to the House, where it is expected to pass it and send it to President Biden.

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