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Elon Musk’s Next Surprise? ‘Free Speech’ Has Limits

Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

Although it may take several months for Elon Musk to complete his purchase of Twitter, reaction to the $44 billion deal was immediate and decidedly partisan.

On the right we saw robust #ThanksElon memes tweeted out on the social network, especially from folks who believe President Joe Biden’s election was “stolen” and call the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection suspects “political prisoners.”

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, tweeted that free speech is “making a comeback.”

Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, who, along with Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, loudly heckled the president during his State of the Union address, gleefully tweeted that Musk “now literally owns the libs.” Not quite.

But on the left, reactions to Musk’s deal varied from rage and sorrow to teeth-gnashing defiance. Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts lamented the deal as “dangerous for democracy” and called for “strong” rules to hold Big Tech accountable.

Illinois Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia tweeted “there’s so many better uses for that money, other than buying a social media company.” Indeed. But a social media company is what Musk’s buying, along with age-old arguments about how “free” speech can be before it becomes a menace.

 

Although Musk, the world’s wealthiest person according to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index, has not been specific about his plans, he famously calls himself a libertarian and free speech zealot who has long complained that Twitter’s moderation practices are too restrictive.

“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy,” he said in a statement announcing the deal, “and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”

That’s a lovely sentiment, but as a longtime free speech — and free press — zealot myself, I know both to be an ideal that is easier to express than to implement.

For example, does one’s definition of “free speech” include bullying, harassment, hate speech and disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic?

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