It would be an understatement to say that Elon Musk’s time at Twitter has been contentious.
He purchased Twitter at a time when the dominant social media platform was aggressively influencing public conversation and seemed to penalize right-wing accounts. Former Twitter trust and safety chief Yoel Roth compared the Trump administration to “real Nazis.” Many Twitter employers “see him [Trump] as the leader of a terrorist outfit responsible for violence/deaths equivalent to Christchurch shooter or Hitler and on that premise and on the entirety of his Tweets, he should be de-platformed,” according to Bari Weiss in The Twitter Files.
Twitter swiftly bans right-wing users while allowing explicitly racist messages from far-leftists to go unpunished. Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a Stanford health policy expert and opponent of the COVID-19 lockdowns, had his account throttled by the website, which had a significant effect on how the United States responded to the epidemic.
When he assumed control, Musk pledged neutrality while asserting that he was “fighting for free speech in America.” However, his recent behavior has been less than admirable. He has reportedly started blocking far-left accounts, according to The Intercept. Some of the accounts appear to be serious researchers, but some are overtly violent and may have been banned years ago. After receiving backlash, he unseated some reporters who had been critical of him from their suspensions.
Musk has also made it known how he feels about the workerism movement’s far-left worldview. He asserted that wokeness is “one of the biggest challenges to modern civilization” and that it is fundamentally divisive, exclusive, and hateful. Whether you agree or disagree that being woke is a negative thing, Musk’s words don’t exactly exclaim, “Viewpoint diversity is welcome here.” His comments are particularly troubling because, as The Intercept points out, he appears to be choosing which information to moderate based on his personal views. There is a legitimate worry that he is merely substituting leftist censorship for leftist censorship.
This is not necessarily the case. Musk should follow the lead of a guy who accomplished this feat: Thomas Jefferson if he is sincere about transforming a group that dominated public conversation into a true town hall.
It was illegal to “write, print, say, or publish… any false, scandalous, and malicious publication or writings against the government of the United States” before President John Adams of the United States signed the Sedition Act in 1798. The law was a blatant attempt to seize control. The Federalists, a branch of Adams’ party, were in charge of upholding the law, and they used it as a weapon against the Republicans.
According to historian Jacob Mchangama’s book “Free Speech: A History From Socrates to Social Media,” “With very few exceptions, all those targeted by the Act were Republicans or opposed to Federalist policies, while Federalist newspapers were generally free to use hyperbole and invectives against Republicans.”
A total of 126 defendants, including newspaper proprietors and even an elected Republican congressman, were indicted under the Sedition Act. Republican Thomas Jefferson, who served as John Adams’ vice president, was the subject of an active investigation and had his correspondence tapped.
Jefferson was rightfully incensed at the Federalist Party when he won the 1800 presidential election. The Sedition Act was due to expire on the day he took office (further proof that the Federalists didn’t intend to follow their own rules and let their political rivals dictate their speech), and he could have rallied his majorities in Congress to extend the Act and deliver a severe lesson to the Federalists. He chose the moral path instead. In his inaugural address, he made the impassioned vow to respect the political opponents’ views just as they had not respected his own. He then allowed the Act to expire.
Jefferson declared, “We are all republicans; we are all Federalists.” “Let them stand undisturbed as memorials of the safety with which mistake of belief may be tolerated, where reason is left free to confront it,” the Declaration of Independence reads. “If there are any among us who would seek to dissolve this Union, or to change its republican shape.”
Jefferson wasn’t flawless, to be clear. Mchangama points out that while he periodically urged state governments to look into his political opponents, he didn’t insist on the federal government doing so. Even still, compared to the previous Adams administration, his was a world apart.
Jefferson’s propensity to take the high road (usually) had long-lasting effects. He encouraged the developing nation to have a strong respect for free speech and the First Amendment by refusing to use tit-for-tat censorship.
The efforts of Madison, Jefferson, Hay, and other critics undoubtedly contributed to the development of a strong commitment to First Amendment ideals as well as to a deeper understanding of what that constitutional provision meant in both principle and practice, as Mchangama claims when describing Jefferson’s response to the Sedition Act.
Jefferson was able to establish a true town square for public discourse by lifting the partisan censorship of his forerunners and enacting a declared policy of viewpoint variety.
Musk stated that he purchased Twitter because having a common digital town square where a wide variety of opinions can be discussed in a healthy manner without resorting to violence is crucial for the continuation of civilization.
That is an admirable goal. It might actually come to pass if he’s prepared to reverse direction and forgo content regulation driven by personal or political agendas.
The opinions in this article are those of the author and may not represent those of The Epoch Times.