Below is my column in USA Today on the panic among political and media figures at the prospect that Elon Musk might return free speech protections to Twitter. I have long advocated what I call the “First Amendment model” for social media to replicate the standards applied to the government. While I am often called a “free speech absolutist,” I recognize that a social media company (like the government) has some ability to curtail speech containing elements like threats. The question is the baseline, which is far lower when modeled on the First Amendment. This admittedly means that some offensive or false claims will be allowed on social media, which will function closer to a common carrier or other means of communications like telephones. Rather than continue the expanding level of censorship and biased “content modification,” free speech can address such bad speech with better speech.
Here is the column:
The news that Elon Musk wants to go forward with the purchase of Twitter has led to a virtual panic among media, political and academic figures worried that free speech could shortly break out on the social media platform. Former Politico magazine editor Garrett Graff summed up the collective vapors succinctly: “Be afraid, be actually afraid.”
I sincerely hope so.
While Musk had in recent months wavered on his purchase, he said last week that he wants to move forward with a $44 billion offer to buy the social media platform. On Thursday, the judge presiding over Twitter’s lawsuit against Musk for backing out of the original deal gave the world’s richest person until Oct. 28 to reach an agreement on the purchase.
Censorship culture threatens to limit free speech
The free speech community hopes that Musk is still committed to his stated commitment to return free speech protections to the social media giant. In the past 10 years, a censorship culture has not only become deeply embedded at Twitter but also on other social media platforms. The need for censored and limited speech has become an article of faith for many on the left.
I have long admitted to being an “internet originalist,” someone who viewed the internet as the greatest development for free speech since the invention of the printing press. However, the rapid erosion of free speech values – from our Congress to our campuses – has been alarming.
Led by President Joe Biden, Democratic leaders and media figures have demanded corporate censorship and even state censorship to curtail opposing views on issues ranging from climate change to election integrity to public health to gender identity. The Washington Post’s Max Boot, for example, declared, “For democracy to survive, we need more content moderation, not less.”
Now these same figures are fearful of the supposed menace that Musk poses – the prospect that a major social media platform could actually restore free speech protections.
It would reverse the anti-free speech policies of Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, who has pledged to 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.”
Agrawal’s policy of “who can be heard” offers a reverse model for how to develop a new culture at Twitter. Indeed, his emphasis on the limits of the First Amendment is precisely where Musk should start.
I have argued for a “First Amendment approach” for social media companies. While the companies are not legally subject to the First Amendment, they can voluntarily adopt for themselves the same limitations the government faces.
The First Amendment was never intended to be the exclusive definition of free speech. It deals with only one source of limiting free speech – the government. Yet, many of us view free speech as a human right worthy of protection by private companies. We hope Musk does as well.
Twitter could adopt First Amendment standards
Musk could flip the script of those who justify corporate censorship by declaring that the company will follow the same limitations and standards applied to the government on free speech. In other words, if the government could not censor a tweet, Twitter would not do so.
Voluntary adoption of First Amendment standards would get Twitter largely out of the censorship business. The company would have a ready-made list of cases on the scope of permissible speech controls, with a heavy preference for free speech over speech regulation.
Musk would need to take other steps to exorcise a censorship culture at Twitter. One priority should be to order employees to preserve all records of communications with political leaders and organizations. There is growing evidence of backchannels between social media companies and the government and certain groups.
Musk also could help answer questions of how political figures have used the company for “censorship by surrogate” in past years. That should include whether the company has retaliated against critics, especially conservatives, by withholding blue check marks that help to validate an account’s worth or by using other methods to depress the profile of certain accounts.
The panic evident among media and political figures reflects the fact that, if Musk is serious about free speech, the system of corporate censorship might collapse. With a free speech option in the market, many users are likely to return to Twitter. They are less likely to remain on sites like Facebook, where censorship is not only rampant but also the subject of a campaign to get people to embrace what the company euphemistically calls “content modification.”
Earlier this year, when Musk first appeared likely to buy Twitter, leading advocates for corporate censorship like Hillary Clinton turned to good old-fashioned state censorship. Clinton called upon Europe to pass laws that could force Musk to censor views or face punitive fines. She pushed countries to act “before it’s too late.”
A committee in the British Parliament seemed to answer Clinton’s call by asking Musk to appear for questioning.
Recently, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern received gushing praise when she spoke to the United Nations and called for a system of global censorship. Ardern is the smiling, cheerful face of modern censorship.
She revealed how sweeping such a system would likely be and defended the need for censorship to combat those who question climate change and to stop “hateful and dangerous rhetoric and ideology.”
She left out that governments would determine what ideas or dissenting views are too dangerous to allow.
Euronews correspondent Shona Murray recently tweeted, “The end of Twitter as we know it is nigh.” If we are lucky, that is precisely what Musk will bring about.
Musk has already earned a place in history for his accomplishments in an array of fields, from transportation to space. However, restoring free speech to social media would rank as his greatest gift to humanity. It would not be “Twitter as we know it,” and that would be a great thing.
Jonathan Turley, the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.
204 thoughts on “Will Musk “End Twitter As We Know it”? I Sincerely Hope So”
Even if Trump was trying to dig dirt, so what?
How is that a bad thing?
For those interested to dig deeper into the work of Alexander Macgillivray, Principal Deputy Chief Technology Officer within Office of Science and Technology Policy (part of the Executive Office of President Biden): An excellent read about about twitter’s relationship within a network of individuals, entities, corporations and the federal government.
The facts are MORE egregious regarding Biden.
Massive amounts of testimony and you never got anyone to actually say that Trump had ever tied aide to anything.
Biden and congress have done so publicly and the very request makes it clear that the purpose is politics not foreign policy.
What Biden and democrats are doing is blatant extortion.
It is also legal. As what Trump was accused of.
As is typical of the left – what you accuse others of, is who you are yourselves.
Your obvious hypocrites,
Asking a foreign government to investigate the potentially criminal conduct of a political opponent is NOT a crime.
If it was all you would have to do to avoid investigation would be to run for office.
Are you still trying to pretend that the Biden syndicates activities in Ukraine and throughout the world do not stink to high heaven ?
Biden, Democrats in Congress, and Democrats at corporate media outlets have yet to show any sign of shame for the harm their zealotry is causing our nation. These creatures are hiveminded and evil. Regulaor voters not on the Democratic party’s payroll would be hard-pressed to rationalize voting for any candidate running under the Dem’s banner.
OT: Trump’s Truth Social app soars to No. 1 on the Google Play store
After long wait, Trump-owned app scores 100,000 plus downloads in first days in Android marketplace.
I bet a lot of them are liberals looking to insult him and get tossed from the platform.
“[Roger] Stone angry that Trump didn’t grant him a second pardon melts down calling Ivanka Trump – ‘abortionist b*tch daughter.'”
That’s a clip from a Danish documentary, A Storm Foretold, that should be coming out soon.
he lives rent free in your head
No, I seldom think about Roger Stone. It’s still likely to be an interesting documentary, and I’ll watch it.
Elon Musk’s, Martian idea of Democracy & Consciousness
Exclusive Interview: Elon Musk On Twitter Fame, Loneliness, And AI
Musk can avoid arguing with the anti-free speech woke mob and actually give them exactly what they want, ie., censorship, by making one small change: fire all his woke employees and hire only conservatives. Then allow them to censor as they see fit. We’ll see how fast the woke fascists start screaming for free speech.
People like Svelaz say that Twitter is a private company and they can ban anything they feel like banning…and then they turn around and argue that a baker in CO has to BAKE A CAKE specifically designed by a customer, even though said customer is free to come in and buy any cake that the baker has in his display case. So to hypocrites like Svelaz Twitter can do anything they feel like, including banning the president of the US (as they allow the CCP and the Iranian Mullahs right to opine) but a baker must be forced to actually perform an act.
Hey Svelaz, could Trump have forced Streisand to sing at his inauguration? Then why should a baker be forced to do a specific job that goes against his religious beliefs?
The lefty hypocrites are all for choice, unless it is a choice to take the jab, or not use a pronoun, or opt out of working for something you disagree with or any other left wing wish list of dominance.
The 5th Circuit just upheld the Texas law prohibiting censorship by large internet platforms. Viewpoint discrimination by a common carrier is not protected speech.
Biden has done it again.
Remember When the Oval Office resident White Knighted the impending rail strike?
No surprise to those paying attention, Biden did no such thing. All he did was negotiate the inevitable. A strike, but after the midterms.
The White Knight did not bring two sides together at the negotiating table and facilitate an agreement to avert a strike. President Biden did the Magicians act of erecting an elaborate curtain, to hide the facts. The only thing negotiated, was a delay of the date the inevitable strike takes place.
Not surprisingly, the two sides agreed not to strike until Congress returns, AFTER the midterms.
Like the Border Guards fake whipping
Like the fake Jan 6 power point presentation.
Like the fake Covid 19 jab, that never claimed to stop transmission
Like the Biden’s position on energy
Like the Afghan withdraw
Like Bidens fitness for office.
The entity of Biden’s administration is nothing but a relentless pursuit of a narrative, to replace the uncomfortable facts.
My how the communists are afraid that their platform may have to deal with real truths.
“Truth is treason in the empire of lies.”
— Ron Paul
Alex Jones Addresses the ‘End of Infowars’
Oct 13, 2022
The Alex Jones Show
The Alex Jones Show
Alex Jones addresses the leftist establishment’s attempts to end Infowars.
Most Americans are discussed at Parents & Ambulance chasing lawyers dragging their dead kids down the road from state to state suing everyone but the culprits like the local schools failure to install the recommended security measures, state/city, And Pfizer/others giving the shooters their batsh*t crazy pills, SSRIs, that more or less says on the label some people go crazy mass m*rdering & becomes suicidal nuts. (sic)
Send those people a message with your support to infowars or don’t, but many still want to hear Infowars case without them & A Jones Gagged by the last 2 judges.
I’m gonna take a wild guess that Musk’s objective is going to change to vigorously operating business segments to ensure they are maximally accretive to the EPS of TWTR.
Jonathan: You claim Elon Musk would be “restoring free speech to social media would rank as his greatest gift to humanity”. You have to be kidding! Musk has never demonstrated any real commitment to “free speech”. He has repeatedly sought to control over what journalists, bloggers and others say about him and his businesses. He has asked reporters to sign NDAs or show story drafts to his companies to obtain approval before publishing. Even laid-off Tesla workers are not immune on restrictions of their “free speech” rights.
Laid-off Tesla workers are required to sign a separation agreement, not uncommon in many industries, but it contains the following further limitation: “The provisions of this Agreement will be held in strictest confidence by you and will not be publicized or disclosed in any manner whatsoever”…”In particular, and without limitation, you agree not to disclose the terms of this Agreement to any current or former Company employee or contractor”. There are numerous cases in which Musk has fired employees for reporting racist, sexist and other forms of harassment, unsafe working conditions to state authorities in California. No wonder Musk wants to keep the mouths of former Tesla workers shut tight!
Musk has even tried to limit the “free speech” rights of Tesla buyers. Last year Musk asked Tesla buyers to not criticize his product. According to an agreement Tesla buyers were asked to “keep your experiences in the program confidential” and not to “share any information about this program with the public”. After all the problems with driving the Tesla one can understand why Musk would try to limit the “free speech” rights of Tesla drivers.
It’s pretty clear Musk only wants Twitter to promote his companies and himself. Does anyone really think anyone who is a critic of Musk’s companies will be permitted on a Musk owned Twitter? If you do you need a reality check! Musk could make a “gift to humanity” by just saying “No thanks” to buying Twitter. That would be his “gift” to free speech!
Sounds like just the person to take over Twitter.
I have no idea if anything you are claiming is true – and your credibility is complete schiff.
What I do know is that in venture after venture Musk has gotten wealthy by delivering amazing value.
Whatever Musks terms of employment – if you do not like them – do not seek work from Musk.
As to “separations agreements” – do not sign them. There is no obligation to agree to anything on your way out the door, voluntarily or not.
Nor would any such separation agreement be binding – unless the person accepting the agreement got something for it.
I frequently have tenants who are far behind on my rent. I give them notice that they are going to get evicted and then I provide them with an agreement to leave quickly and voluntarily. If they accept it and leave – I drop the eviction and they have no public record of being evicted.
And I gain possession months sooner and the apartment gets rented sooner and I loose less money, and no court costs.
It is a win-win and most tenants agree and leave without being evicted.
Musk can ask for anything he wants as an employee heads out the door. No one should sign it unless they are getting something in return. And if they are not – it is not binding – contracts 101.
If Muck buys Twitter he can do whatever he wants with it.
If he wishes to turn it into non-stop self promotion – that is his business.
We have heard from those on the left that Twitter is free when run by left wing nuts to do whatever it wants.
Why the tearing out hair because Muck is going to own it – isn’t he equally free to do what he wants ?
You say Musks commitment to free speech is a ruse.
If true – so what ? If Musk turns the table and starts censoring left wing nuts – how would that be morally or legally different than what happens now ?
I happen to believe Musk, but if I am wrong – the world is still better off for Musk buying twitter.
McIntyer is aghast that people voluntarily enter into employment contracts.
It is very hard to quantify exactly how ignorant leftist are of the real world.
Honest question. Would Musk extend free speech rights to bots? And if not, how can censorship of bots not be considered an infringement of the rights of the coder who created the bot?
The coder has the right to speak for themselves.
Machines, computers, code, do not have rights.
But isn’t the coder “speaking” through his creation of the bot?
Is an automated message in email “speech” (i.e., your out of office email)? If so, what is the difference? You have set an algorithm that responds each time you receive a message. Many bots are set up the same way. The “message” that is generated is just more responsive to the context of another person’s tweet. The parameters of that response are obviously tied to the unique way that a coder codes the bot.
A true absolutist should not want to censor any speech, I would think, including code.
An email does not have rights. The writer of the email does.
Correct. The writer of the bot’s tweet is the coder. Why does the coder have no free speech rights?
“But isn’t the coder “speaking” through his creation of the bot?”
“A true absolutist should not want to censor any speech”
I do not know anyone who believes that commentors should be free to post hustler centerfolds on this blog.
That very little speech is legitimately restricted does not mean all speech can be restricted.
If you wish to argue for absolute free speech – go ahead.
But almost no one support all speech in all forums.
So what does “free speech absolutist” mean then?
If I create a bot that automatically tweets, “abortion is murder” in response to any tweet that mentions the word abortion, why should my actions be censored?
Because no one is censoring you, they are censoring your bot.
People have rights. Code does not.
If you wish to hire people to tweet out the same thing, they will not be censored.
What does free speech absolutist mean ? Allowing all speech by any human (I should not have to say that), with extremely few rare exceptions – such as child pornography or adult content in non-adult forums.
I am not trying to provide the perfect formal defintion here – there is no such thing.
Nor does free speech absolutism means the same thing in all contexts. I do not hear anyone objecting to Turley filtering spam.
At the same time – most of us would oppose Government stepping into spam filtering.
There are a few other areas of divergence – many absolutists will bar true threats.
Some would eliminate defamation – and let the market work that out.
Few people think that constraining government from teaching our children things we object to is barred by free speech.
Musk’s first move after completing his takeover of Twitter will be to get rid of all those blue-haired, pronoun freaks in the ranks.
Elon Musk, $ 41 Billion TWTR Takeover, their Central Infrastructure, and an all-inclusive “Everything app”
There was an outcry as the general public got knowledge that “ByteDance”, the parent company of “TikTok” is required under Chinese law to share its data with the Chinese Communist Party whenever requested.  As Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, head of security of Twitter Inc and a former program manager at DARPA, went public more than two months ago, providing “free speech” was not his first priority  Does our government having access to all user data on Twitter?
What’s the business model of Twitter?
Let’s start with a detour: Jimmy Wales, Larry Sanger, and others launched the crowdfunded online encyclopedia “Wikipedia” more than 20 years ago. Users develop the content; access is free of charges and pages are ad-free. Hosting platform is the charitable foundation “Wikimedia”. In short: Food & beverages are free but good luck in editing “sensible” content.
Free food & beverage is an issue of financial viability. However, Twitter’s business model doesn’t exist as a free social media discussion platform while running the ultra-expensive data processing system needed for millions of simultaneous users. A global chat that requires exponential database responses as an outcome of simultaneous users is just ridiculously expensive. If the government has access to our data, then the business model could work.
Next is Musk’s idea to integrate an “everything app”. Digital identity, digital currency, social credit system, where do we end up? Mass surveillance like in China?
 Frances Haugen, former product manager in Facebook civic integrity team, was more concerned about the damaging potential of the algorithm.
>”I have long admitted to being an “internet originalist,” someone who viewed the internet as the greatest development for free speech since the invention of the printing press. However, the rapid erosion of free speech values – from our Congress to our campuses – has been alarming.”
Dear Prof. Turley,
The ‘internet’ does not care a wit about free speech. The internet does not feel pain or pity or acknowledge virtues .. . it only allows me to ‘share’ those feelings with you. lol.
You may be a ‘free speech absolutist’ but even you, like the NYT* eg., have a moderation policy here? (I assume words are not automatically posted here. .. lest some stranger get a wild hair in their alphabet soup?)
In the broader free-market place of ideas, however, Twitter (& FB) has, for all intents and purposes, ‘cornered the market.’ Presently, they are the ‘absolute’ .. . and you (we) are the ‘contingent.’ Size matters.
Perhaps, Mr. Musk will provide more enlightened leadership and/or make a fine mediator for the President, but, like you, I’d prefer more robust anti-trust regulation over those who control the ‘market place of ideas’. In any case, if knowledge is power, I suspect the long and arduous struggle between public and private control of information will continue to be fiercely contested . .. and often paved with good intentions.
*The NYT rarely ‘prints’ the comments they solicited (& Don’t believe a word you read there either .. .unless it’s TRUE!).
“When the balance between the person and society finally obtains we shall know that man has begun his maturity. Obviously, both individual and group will have to give up something of what they now have, just as the nations will have to yield some of their present sovereignty in favour of the world commonwealth, but this will prove no more of a hardship than the sacrifice of bait to catch fish.” ~ attribution withheld . .. for your own good
Not so. I frequently comment on The New York Times articles. All but one have been approved and appear on the comments pages associated with the articles.
You must be saying all the right things. I have commented on more than a few articles in recent past (Jan.-June) and the NYT has rarely printed them, at least in a timely fashion (i.e. within a couple days). .. I estimate around 10%.
*the rest may be still ‘pending approval’