Elon Musk’s free speech absolutism is a fallacy

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It was reported that Elon Musk, Twitter’s prospective owner, called free speech “essential” at an all-hands meeting on June 16 at Twitter (TWTR). Three SpaceX employees who helped distribute an open letter criticizing Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s behavior were fired the following day, according to reports.

To be a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” just isn’t practical, and this decision by Musk demonstrates that. Most experts agree that tech platforms need at least some regulation, despite Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s claim that he plans to buy Twitter for $44 billion if the deal goes through.

American University communications expert Jason Mollica tells Yahoo Finance that “there are many individuals on social networks who state this because they want their version of the truth to be shared widely”. “The right to free speech is not absolute.” In order to keep people from abusing their freedom, there must be rules and regulations in place.”

Even if social media sites like Twitter, Instagram, and most infamously, Facebook have rules about what can and cannot be posted, they are rife with disinformation and misinformation. From the Cambridge Analytica data breach to the now-viral Pizzagate conspiracy, the news that’s spread on these sites has had real-life consequences and information crises.

Freedom of speech is a strange concept, to say the least. Prof. Kevin Esterling of the University of California, Riverside’s department of political science said, “This kind of libertarian ideal is disconnected from how markets actually function.”

It turns out that Elon Musk and Thomas Jefferson have a lot in common.

On social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, there is a lot of monetized misinformation that Musk doesn’t fully understand or account for. Musk’s unwavering support for free speech is similar to that of the nation’s first president, Thomas Jefferson, whose ideas about fundamental liberties, such as the right to free speech, have been taught in American schools for more than two centuries. His legacy has been re-evaluated in recent years due to the fact that he bought and sold slaves while publicly opposing slavery.)

Yahoo! Finance has made this information available. Gruenheide, Germany, March 22, 2022: Elon Musk attends the opening ceremony of the new Tesla Gigafactory for electric cars. REUTERS/Pool photographer Patrick Pleul

People want to suppress false information, but Esterling told Yahoo Finance that Jefferson believed it is essential to democracy. “What’s interesting is that many people want to suppress misinformation,” said Esterling.

One caveat, however: truth and falsehood must compete on an equal footing, according to Jefferson. If skeptics did their job right, only truthful information would spread. Esterling says that’s simply not the case and that rampant disinformation and misinformation are, at their core, a failure in the market.

Esterling argued that “free markets don’t always work well because of market failure.” “As a result, we have pollution controls in place because industries will overpollute if they don’t have to pay for it. People can abuse Twitter because there is no cost to using it.

Companies like Twitter and Facebook’s parent Meta benefit financially when they spread false information, which in turn influences consumers’ purchasing decisions. False news stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true stories, according to a popular MIT study in 2018.

As a result, Jefferson’s assumption that truth and falsehood could compete fairly in the real world has proven to be incorrect.

A “fair competition” is not possible because of the way tech companies curate content on social media, according to Esterling. So few checks are in place to ensure that misinformation doesn’t circulate in an echo chamber, regardless of how accurate it is. What happens on social media is not what the Framers had in mind when they said “well, the Framers liked free speech,”” says a conservative.

According to Mollica, Musk only wants free speech under certain conditions.

In a recent town hall meeting with Twitter employees, Musk discussed the importance of protecting users from potentially harmful or offensive content that could be amplified on the platform. In Musk’s view, even if something shared is bad, if it is legal, there is no problem. This is a problem because Musk has a history of attempting to limit media coverage of his businesses. When it comes to free speech or legal speech, it only happens if it’s in Musk’s interest.

In the end, I’ve often wondered if Musk’s and, for that matter, everyone’s, relationship with free speech is inherently emotional. No matter how much I try, I will never be able to control what others say about me. That’s not something I can do.

Would I, on the other hand, use it if I had it? Hard to say, but it’d be enticing to do so. My net worth is nowhere near that of a billionaire, nor am I the CEO of multiple businesses, nor am I the richest person on the planet. For the simple reason that it hurts his feelings and, like everyone else, he dislikes being criticized, Musk — who is all of those things — has the power to silence journalists and other critical employees.

Furthermore, it is dishonest for both Musk and us to frame the free speech debate as an intellectual or theoretical one, and it is dishonest for Musk to claim that free speech is an absolute right. Free speech has no place in the real world, which is far too complex. Musk may be aware of this, too.

As a Yahoo Finance senior tech reporter, Allie Garfinkle covers the latest in technology. Her Twitter handle is @agarfinks.

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