This morning I ran a column on a proposed “First Amendment model” for Twitter once Elon Musk takes over the company. Right on cue, Twitter supplied another example of its corporate censorship culture that must be addressed if Musk is going to restore free speech protections to the social media company. Twitter temporarily removed a post from Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo recommending against mRNA coronavirus vaccinations for men under 40.
Dr. Ladapo was sharing data that he said indicated an increase in cardiac conditions for men under 40 who have received mRNA coronavirus shots. Rather than allow experts and citizens to debate such risks, Twitter moved to prevent others from hearing from the top health official in one of the largest states in the Union. It was later restored, which is in sharp contrast to other experts and science writers suspended or barred due to their raising dissenting views on the social media site.
In his post, Ladapo linked to new guidance from his office recommending against the shots for under-40s and wrote
“Today, we released an analysis on COVID-19 mRNA vaccines the public needs to be aware of. This analysis showed an increased risk of cardiac-related death among men 18-39. FL will not be silent on the truth. Studying the safety and efficacy of any medications, including vaccines, is an important component of public health. Far less attention has been paid to safety and the concerns of many individuals have been dismissed – these are important findings that should be communicated to Floridians.”
Twitter immediately took the post down as violative of its coronavirus misinformation policies. It was later restored after public outcry.
It is not clear if the restoration would have occurred for other doctors given the past suspension and barring of experts questioning the efficacy of masks or vaccines. Even senators like Rand Paul were banned by companies like YouTube for questioning the efficacy of masks — a view now accepted as a legitimate concern.
The company seemingly wrote off free speech years ago. Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal was asked how Twitter would balance its efforts to combat misinformation with wanting to “protect free speech as a core value” and to respect the First Amendment. He responded dismissively that the company is “not to be bound by the First Amendment” and will regulate content as “reflective of things that we believe lead to a healthier public conversation.” Agrawal said the company would “focus less on thinking about free speech” because “speech is easy on the internet. Most people can speak. Where our role is particularly emphasized is who can be heard.”
I have written about five steps that Musk can take to restore free speech. However, the key is to break a culture of censorship at the company. If Musk moves Twitter out of San Francisco, it may help in that restructuring in replacing staff with those committed to free speech values. However, the key to restoring these values is to adopt what I have called the “first amendment model” for the company.