Is Elon Musk Still Trying to Figure This Twitter Thing Out?
But Musk’s big buy-in, as many analysts see it, is all about influence, more than profits. Musk, a tireless self-promoter, already has used Twitter to market and sell products and joust with regulators and critics and build his fame.
The social network offers him a more direct opportunity to engage and shape the national conversation as a self-proclaimed free speech advocate who already has whipped up a sizable politically minded fan base.
The South Africa-born Musk can’t run for president without a change in our Constitution. But he doesn’t have to be president if he can influence one — or a few.
“The reason I acquired Twitter is because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square,” he said in a speech to advertisers, “where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence.”
That’s a relief, especially that violence part. But can he pull it off?
If nothing else, we know Musk to be a man of ideas, even when they may come off as shoot-from-the-lip diatribes without much depth of thought. Now he seems to be discovering, as I predicted, that working out the delicate balance between free speech, social responsibility and public accountability is not as simple as Twitter tweets.
I, too, have long called myself a free-speech absolutist, but Musk is only beginning to discover in real time the trade-offs that come with regulating media while also protecting speech and press freedoms.
Congress has been dragging its heels, for example, in updating Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which created internet commerce as we know it and grants more immunity to content providers than newspapers, broadcast news and other old-school media have.
Yet the Supreme Court is expected to hear multiple cases here on the types of internet speech coming out of state legislatures. Other governments such as Canada, Britain and India also are not waiting to pass regulations that can have an effect on our speech regulations.
With that in mind, I welcome Musk to join the debate with something more substantial than casual tweets.
(E-mail Clarence Page at email@example.com.)
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