Elon Musk has claimed that he buys Twitter to protect freedom of expression. But what does Musk mean by “freedom of speech”[ads1];? Musk gave a somewhat vague answer in one tweets on Tuesday, a day after entering into a $ 44 billion deal to buy Twitter. (The sale to Musk is being processed and needs shareholder approval to be completed.)
Musk’s statement, as he made the attached tweet on his Twitter profile, said the following:
By “freedom of speech” I mean simply what is in accordance with the law. I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law.
If people want less freedom of speech, they will ask the government to pass laws on it. Therefore, going beyond the law is against the will of the people.
Twitter has the first right to change to moderate tweets
There are several ways to interpret Musk’s statement regarding US law, especially the First Amendment. One interpretation is that Musk does not need to change Twitter at all to prevent “censorship that goes far beyond the law.”
The first amendment states that “Congress shall not pass any law … which would shorten the freedom of speech or the press; or the right of the people to assemble peacefully and to petition the government for redress. The wording prevents the government from restricting statements, but courts have ruled that it does not prevent private companies from doing so.
In fact, judges have ruled that private companies such as Twitter have a First Amendment right to moderate content. Both Florida and Texas tried to pass laws that would force social networks such as Twitter and Facebook to reduce content moderation. Judges blocked both state laws from coming into force, ruling that the laws violate companies’ rights to moderate their platforms.
The laws on freedom of expression vary greatly from country to country
In that sense, Twitter’s content moderation – including restricting tweets and banning certain accounts – already complies with the “law” of free speech in the United States. But Musk clearly believes that Twitter’s content moderation is often a violation of free speech. His statement that freedom of expression on Twitter should “match the law” may thus mean that he believes Twitter – like the US Congress – should not impose rules and guidelines that Musk considers to be “censorship”.
US law does not say that Twitter must avoid such rules and guidelines, so Musk seems to want freedom of speech that goes beyond what US law requires. Musk can achieve its goal by changing Twitter’s guidelines for the types of content that are banned and by changing the algorithms that Twitter uses to promote or limit the visibility of certain tweets.
Of course, freedom of speech laws vary from country to country, and the United States is known for not having many government-imposed borders for people who say what they think. Twitter meets different laws around the world – China, for example, blocks Twitter. In Europe, Twitter will face a new set of rules for moderating illegal and harmful content.
Musk’s statement that “if people want less freedom of speech, they will ask the government to pass laws on it” does not correspond to the reality of countries that impose significant limits on freedom of expression. Oppressive governments that severely restrict speech do not usually do so because the people they govern have “ask[ed] the government to pass laws for it. “Examples include China’s extensive Internet censorship system and Russia’s breakdown of news coverage of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Musk recently suggested he would defy governments that demand speech restrictions, writing that “Starlink has been told by some governments (not Ukraine) to block Russian news sources. We will not do it unless it is under arms. Sorry to be absolute freedom of speech.”
But Musk’s new statement, which defines freedom of speech as “what is in accordance with the law,” suggests a different approach where he would be willing to restrict speech in any country where the government requires him to do so. By using Musk’s explanation of freedom of expression, a government law that prohibits certain types of expression is merely “the will of the people.”