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Freedom to Boycott Is Free Speech, Too

Froma Harrop on

It takes a certain inconsistency to argue, as Elon Musk has, that activists are "trying to destroy free speech in America" by pressuring companies to pause advertising on Twitter, the social media platform he just overpaid for. A "free speech absolutist," as Musk describes himself, would surely understand that activists saying their piece to corporations are also engaging in free speech. Wouldn't he?

The makers of Cheerios, Centrum vitamins or Chevy Silverados have zero obligation to advertise anywhere they don't want to. Same goes for Musk's Tesla car company, which does no advertising at all.

But as major corporations suspend their ads over concern that Twitter has gone toxic, the platform is suffering a "massive drop in revenue," Musk notes in a martyred tone. He then threatened to "name & shame" the companies that paused their advertising. Well, step right up, Elon. That, too, is free speech.

Musk's apparent decision to open the barnyard door to creepy crawlies wallowing in bigotry and disinformation has scared the ad buyers. For them, this is a business decision.

In advertising, as in real estate, it's location, location, location. A Twitter without some moderation is one ugly neighborhood. And it's not like there aren't other platforms to patronize.

The ad withholders are doing the smart thing. Yours truly is only one consumer, but typical of many. There's a reason she will not buy a pillow from a certain treasonous pillow peddler. And when looking for salted peanuts at Costco, she does not want the peace of the moment spoiled by a pillow display reminding her of attacks on the democracy. That's why Costco and other chains stopped selling the brand.

Yours truly would like to make a few things clear, however. One, she does not necessarily buy into all the activists' visions. Agreeing with them is not the point. Also, she has not wiped conservative commentary from her field of vision. If it is fact based and intelligent, she follows and even pays for some of it.

As a moderate user of Twitter, I've tolerated some of the antisocial banter that does get through, but as already implied, I do draw the line at calls to violently overthrow the U.S. government -- promulgated by Donald Trump and others seeking to destabilize American society. I can't stop them from sending this detritus into the cyberspace, of course, but I'm allowed to refuse delivery. The people who used to run Twitter understood this.

 

Another thing that attracted me to Twitter: It is free. The minute anyone asks for my credit card number, I'm out of there. What did Musk think he was offering -- a town hall with ornate chandeliers that could charge admission?

Musk now wants prominent users to pay him for the privilege of getting that blue check, again his right. If they submit, he's made a few bucks. If they don't, there goes his free content.

There are alternative theories of what Musk is up to. Perhaps he has made a calculation that torching a $44 billion investment is worth the fun of putting on a grand opera in which he stars as diva, tenor and set designer: He's doing it for the joy ride of commandeering the world's attention.

This might also be a political play to ingratiate himself with elements on the right, which have accused Twitter of serving as a clubhouse for the left. Or Musk is out to please the authoritarians running China, where he does considerable business.

As for accusing "activists" of muzzling free speech by speaking, well, that's not going anywhere. It's hard to believe that Musk thinks that, but face it, he is one self-interested man.

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Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Copyright 2022 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
 

 

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