Joe Henderson: Twitter as the digital town square? Who is Elon Musk trying to kid!
Jimmy Patronis cheers Elon Musk for attempting to clean up Twitter. Image via AP.

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Will anything go on Elon Musk's Twitter in the name of free speech?

It is more than a little awkward when a defender of the First Amendment views Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter as a serious threat. Musk is an outspoken champion of free speech, and that’s supposed to be a core value for people like me.

But we saw what happened when Donald Trump turned his Twitter account into a weapon to attack anyone who crossed him. His supporters turned misinformation into a mission to keep Dear Leader in power. They found like-minded individuals who believed in QAnon goop and lies about a stolen election, and it wasn’t long until they stormed the U.S. Capitol.

When authorities called them out, they tried to claim it was protected free speech.

I thought of all that when Musk said he wanted to turn his newest toy, Twitter, into “the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”

Debated?

He’s kidding, right?

Instead of a digital town square, Twitter and other social media platforms like Facebook can be more like havens for middle school bullies. The sites have unmatched power to shape opinions and ruin lives through lies, and nothing is too outrageous.

The fear is Musk will have an anything-goes attitude about those debates on matters vital to the future of humanity.

Conservatives have long complained that big tech mutes their voices. I don’t see a lot of evidence of that because Marjorie Taylor Greene and Randy Fine still have Twitter soapboxes.

But, for a moment, let’s give that conservative argument the benefit of the doubt. If a conservative lands in Twitter or Facebook jail for advocating trickle-down economics, that’s bad. But if someone loses their microphone because they threatened violence or tried to destroy another’s reputation, sorry, that crosses a line.

That cuts both ways.

Those on the Left can be just as nasty and threatening. A quick check today showed a 2020 tweet urging violence against Trump was still online. People on the Left can’t react with horror about the Jan. 6 insurrection, but look the other way when the target is someone they don’t like.

It’s not OK to urge violence against police or celebrate when an anti-vaxxer dies of COVID-19.

You get the picture.

NAACP President Derrick Johnson wrote, “Mr. Musk: free speech is wonderful, hate speech is unacceptable. Disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech have NO PLACE on Twitter. Do not allow 45 to return to the platform. Do not allow Twitter to become a petri dish for hate speech or falsehoods that subvert our democracy.”

Musk promised to police hate speech and harassment, but he’s a little evasive about what qualifies.

“If in doubt, let the speech … let it exist. If it’s a gray area, I would say let the tweet exist,” Musk said. “I do think that we want to be just very reluctant to delete things.”

In other words, one person’s hate speech to one person might be another’s spirited debate. That’s exactly what concerns critics of this deal.

Musk may have good intentions, but no one has figured out how to keep it classy and safe when users go rogue in the digital town square.

It’s not clear how seriously Musk’s Twitter will try to do that, or if it will even try at all.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


6 comments

  • Tom

    April 28, 2022 at 10:08 pm

    You are right Joe,
    Chairman Xi, Ayatollah, and other dictator tyrants are allowed to Twitter Joe. But not the 45th ex POTUS.

    Just like you to pick on a independent libertarian, who may lean conservative on fond things. How about the former President Obama, demanding the first amendment be altered. Shameful. Spare us!

    • Tom

      April 29, 2022 at 9:20 am

      Hey Joe, I’m sure you and FP will focus on Biden’s new “ministry of Mis truth” only under his approval of course. The director denounced the Hunter Biden, NY post story. We now know now inaccurate that effort was.

      Feel free to share your outrage.

  • TD

    April 28, 2022 at 10:23 pm

    “The fear is Musk will have an anything-goes attitude about those debates on matters vital to the future of humanity.”

    Taylor Lorenz and King George III have entered the chat.

    How deranged would you have to be to believe that technology has now made it possible to perfect public debate. Oh but it’s “vital to the future of humanity.” Clutch those pearls brother, you have a centuries long history of petty tyrants from King George III to Taylor Lorenz that proves such suppression is not even remotely vital. It’s only ever about the power of those doing the suppression of wrongthink. Wake up and turn off the MSDNC.

  • tom palmer

    April 28, 2022 at 10:41 pm

    For those of you who turned in late, Taylor Lorenz is a Washington Post reporter who found out who was behind some hate-filled tweets. She didn’t reveal any personal information about the person despite the right-wing media claims to the opposite. I use Twitter somewhat and am aware of the trollosphere out there whenever you post anything about somebody the crazies don’t’ like.

    • Tom

      April 29, 2022 at 8:01 am

      Palmer, Lorenz and Bezos/Wash Post outed the Twitter “Libs of tik tok” just clarifying. Lorenz is wacky.

  • Tom

    April 28, 2022 at 11:34 pm

    Palmer, Taylor is a lunatic fringe so called reporter. She posted and outed conservatives home addresses on town hall, who were then socially and personally contacted. Bezos sanctioned her to do so I guess it’s ok Joe, right? Cause it’s leftists hate and advocacy. So it’s ok. What a joke.

    The left wants to be the judge, jury and prosecutor. As long as it’s the narrative they approve. The social media internet companies can’t have it both ways. They are guaranteed certain lawful rights, they don’t want to be held accountable for having the platforms to be balanced, or equal. Palmer, I don’t think you or I get to decide if someone was harassed by the Post or the off centered Lorenz. Btw, the WH announced a truth police board on DHS.

    Example,s, Hunter Biden story blocked, Zucker bucks buying votes. That’s ok cause you say so. Shameful. Zuckerbucks us corrupt, private money buying ejection access. Shameful.

Comments are closed.


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