Elon Musk must restore free speech on Twitter

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He finally did, and organizations that claim to speak on behalf of the Jewish community, as well as others, are worried. Billionaire Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter has spawned a series of hysterical comments from the chatter classes.

Experts at New York times, The Washington Post and the Anti-Defamation League all fear that if the Tesla mogul follows through on his promises to restore some degree of free speech on the social media site, dire consequences will ensue.

If concerns about the spread of hate are real, so are the repercussions of letting the owners of America’s virtual public square practice selective and highly partisan censorship. The latter typifies the situation on Twitter in recent years, as members of its staff, supposedly acting to enforce loosely defined community standards via an algorithm they kept secret, did their best to silence the rhetoric. policies that contradicted their liberal convictions. They also limited reporting on stories that could harm the causes, parties and candidates they support.

It’s no wonder, then, that those who have benefited from this censorship are freaking out that Twitter is becoming more of a marketplace of ideas than it was under its previous leadership. These people were perfectly happy with a Twitter where controversial, even openly hateful users had carte blanche, as long as they weren’t associated with political conservatism or skeptical of notions treated by the left as orthodoxy that cannot be disputed.

Those speaking out against the end of the platform’s ban on controversial personalities or beliefs are unclear about their motives. Their prediction that a less partisan and ideological approach to policing the site will unleash dark forces that will destroy democracy – and turn the internet into a cesspool of anti-Semitism even more than it already is – is fallacious. .

Nor should their anger, arguments, or tactics deployed to pressure Musk into breaking his promises blind us to what is at stake.

Why Twitter matters

Over the past decade, Twitter has become the main forum for political discussion. Although it has far fewer users (238 million) than the more ubiquitous Facebook, which has 2.96 billion monthly active users, it has become the go-to place for journalists to promote their work and experts, activists and politicians to debate the issues of the day.

Previously, the only way for ordinary citizens to make their voices heard was to send very selective letters to the editors of newspapers. Twitter allows anyone to respond in real time to opinion leaders and political actors without the filter of gatekeepers.

It enabled those who depended on the whims of print and broadcast editors to reach the public – to have direct access to people. It was a victory for democracy.

The unfiltered expression of opinions, however, was not the formula for high speech. Cramming complex stories, polemics and political exchanges into just 140 characters – a number that was expanded in 2017 to 280 – tended to make arguments not only less nuanced, but also more intemperate; it became a freak show of mutual insults.

The memes and hashtags he popularized were a way to put down those who disagreed, not a way to persuade them to consider different viewpoints. And the more an account deteriorated, the more likely it was to accumulate a large following.

However, the opening of Twitter has made it the public square of the 21st century. At a time when so many people interact with others largely through Internet portals, it has become an important and vital element in the service of democracy.

Partisan censorship of Twitter

The Silicon Valley oligarchs who owned the companies that run the internet have the kind of influence and dominance over political discourse and communication that even the most powerful media moguls of the past never dreamed of possessing. So when it became clear that Twitter executives were engaging in censorship of certain ideas, views, and even news, it created a unique and unprecedented crisis for American democracy.

At no time in history had anyone been able to do what Twitter did when it effectively stopped the broadcast of a New York Post history of Biden family corruption in the weeks before the 2020 presidential election. former President Donald Trump, cannot repair the damage done.

Equally disturbing, it soon became clear that Twitter was silencing or even destroying accounts it disliked — including those of Trump and a host of other people — for often dubious reasons regarding their spreading “misinformation” or inciting or praising violence. Saying unpopular things about issues such as Black Lives Matter, climate change, the coronavirus pandemic, or transgender could result in a suspension, shadow ban (silence without the targeted person’s knowledge), or open ban .

All censorship ran in one direction, at the behest of woke left leaders on Twitter. Twitter cooperated with the same partisan forces that led it to silence the Hunter Biden laptop story. Worse, he also toed the government line when he shut down the account of journalist Alex Berenson, who was writing a lot about the COVID-19 vaccine that turned out to be true, at the behest of the Biden administration.

Musk reportedly started thinking about buying Twitter after reading about the ban on Babylon beThe satirical site, because it had the temerity to mock Dr. Rachel Levine, Biden’s assistant health secretary. He understood that it didn’t matter if you agreed with the The bees viewpoint or that of any of the other voices, including Trump’s, that had been silenced. He considered that a country whose main forum for public discourse was subject to this type of political and ideological censorship is a country in which democracy is in danger.

Selective application

The ADL helps orchestrate a pressure campaign against Musk. She herself has engaged in various efforts to promote internet censorship.

It often amounts to an attempt to silence views the group — once nonpartisan, but now a strident ally of the Democratic Party — doesn’t like.

The problem is that Twitter’s own rules have also been selectively enforced. So while Ku Klux Klan figure David Duke and other far-right anti-Semites like Nick Fuentes have been banned, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, arguably one of the most influential anti-Semites and more dangerous, still has a working account.

Trump, and even his former campaign manager and Breitbart editor Steve Bannon are deemed too awful for Twitter. But Iran’s Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is still free to use it to foment hatred of Israel and Jews.

Hate speech online is a problem. A rising tide of anti-Semitism across the world is increasingly embedded in American culture and media at both ends of the political spectrum.

Groups that were confined to the feverish swamps of the far right or far left in the pre-internet era now have ways of organizing that were previously denied to them. And it has become clear in recent days that some anti-Semitic extremists, like those active on the 4chan forum, hope to use Twitter to further their twisted agenda.

Indeed, we saw proof of that last week, when Jew-haters mobilized by posters on 4chan hijacked a readership poll published on the JNS.org Twitter account to arrive at a result that showed most respondents believed Kanye West’s anti-Semitic smears to be true.

The answer should be a policy specifically targeting these obvious extremists. Instead, the ADL essentially advocates using the existence of these anti-Semites to justify Twitter’s longstanding and clearly partisan policies aimed at silencing people Democrats and Liberals don’t like.

You don’t have to have a good opinion of Trump to know that when the ADL says there’s essentially no difference between letting him tweet and doing the same for the 4chan crowd, that’s do politics, not fight hate.

Musk rightfully fired the executives responsible for the site’s partisan practices. But he was reluctant to reinstate many accounts that should never have been deleted in the first place. It says it will form a content moderation council that will reform its policies.

We can only hope this will lead to a return of Twitter to its original purpose as a forum for free expression. Those who want to continue censorship in order to end anti-Semitism should realize that the rights of Jews are guaranteed not so much by banning those who say bad things as by a system based on freedom and justice. rule of law.

Those who, like the ADL, claim to want to protect Jews should align themselves with advocates of freedom, not censorship. Their efforts to silence opponents illustrate how some of the individuals and organizations posing as defenders of democracy are in fact among its most dangerous adversaries.

Jonathan S Tobin is editor of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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