No, Elon Musk is not a Jew. And while his eye-popping $44 billion purchase of Twitter may turn out to be good for him, there are concerns that it won’t be good for the Jews — or for women, LGBTQ people, Muslims or other targeted and vilified minorities.
Musk has said that he wants to strengthen Twitter’s position on “free speech,” that he wants Twitter to serve as the “de facto public town square” and that he wants Twitter to promote global democracy. But Musk’s plans for how he will go about doing each of those things and administer the social media platform are unknown. That is causing mounting concern that Twitter could become a platform for runaway antisemitism and other expressions of hate.
Musk has described himself as a “free speech absolutist.” He advocates for freedom of expression with as few restrictions as possible. If, as a result, he loosens or removes Twitter’s current rules about what may or may not be said on the platform, that could spell trouble for marginalized and vulnerable populations.
There is good cause for concern. Twitter’s status as the “influencer of influencers” and its expansive reach means that hate speech, conspiracy theories and targeted propaganda that first appear as tweets could be picked up, disseminated, adapted and taken as truth by millions of users at the drop of a simple hashtag.
Much of the uncertainty regarding Musk and Twitter relates to the meaning of the words “free speech.” Most of us think of free speech as an inalienable American right, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But that “free speech” right restricts the power of government to limit the speech of its citizens. It is an entirely different concept in the world of social media – where it relates to “platform moderation,” or the rules the social media platform uses to monitor and regulate what and how users may say things on the platform.
On social media sites where there are no rules or where there is lax enforcement of prohibitions against things like “doxxing” (giving out personal information for the purpose of harassment) and posting false or hateful information, some pretty terrible things have followed. And on those sites where anything goes — no matter how hateful, violent or mendacious — the most prolific users tend to be people who want no filters on their speech, whose postings quickly degenerate into a combination of hate speech and wholly inappropriate communication. No one wants Twitter to go there.
Musk has attracted the world’s attention with his purchase of Twitter and his plan to run it privately. We hope that as he rolls out his plan, he chooses to improve moderation standards in order to attract more users rather than default to free speech absolutism, which will encourage hate and abuse and will likely alienate most people.
For now, we hope for the best. And we join an anxious world that waits to see how things play out in Elon Musk’s latest adventure.