My archive finally arrived last night (four days after I requested it) which allowed me to delete my past tweets and leave a simple message for anyone who cares to find me.
It’s not an easy decision. I’ve spent years building my follower list to more than 7,000 people, and for someone like me trying to make a career as a creative, that’s a huge asset to give up. On the other hand, it’s probably good for my mental health and concentration. For years I find myself spending far too much time either on Twitter, or thinking about things I could tweet. But being a cog in the Elon Musk machine is a line I cannot cross. So I’m gone.
In the days since Elon’s purchase became official, there has been much discussion about how people should respond. Here’s what it comes down to for me:
I don’t trust Elon Musk.
Plenty of people have pointed out that other platforms are owned by evil billionaires, and I have no problem saying that I hold a special loathing for Elon Musk.
The man is a liar, a cheat, and a fraud. He was born into great wealth, made one or two smart investments, and then built his fortune mostly by defrauding governments and pocketing tax dollars. His promises are empty, his announced projects rarely come to fruition, and yet he has a reputation as a genius inventor and entrepreneur. The man has never invented anything, and the company for which he is best known — Tesla — was built by other people. All Elon did was buy them out, make their vehicles some of the worst on the market, and make the corporate culture toxic and racist.
Having spent too much of my wayward youth on 4chan, I also learned how to recognize a toxic edgelord, and Elon is their king. The 4chan edgelords all claim to value “free speech,” but their definition is entirely self-serving, protecting their right to harass, doxx, and bully anyone with whom they disagree. We’ve all witnessed Elon’s repeated efforts to censor and persecute people whose words bother him. I don’t like him, and I don’t trust him.
Unmoderated speech is less free, not more.
I was once a “free speech absolutist.” I remain an ardent defender of free expression. But truly engaging with a commitment to free speech means recognizing the childishness of declaring “anyone should be allowed to say anything, anywhere.”
Speech is much more regulated than many Americans care to recognize. It’s not only a question of “shouting fire in a crowded theater” or facing liability for slander and libel; there are also ordinances against loud noise, and limitations on the right to protest. There are laws about confidentiality and nondisclosure, laws about broadcast and platform, and laws against stalking, harassment, bullying, and assault.
People think US laws on speech start and end with the First Amendment, but the fact is the First Amendment is only a starting point, and our government has a complex network of laws because they recognize how completely unrestricted speech is untenable and counter to the premise of a marketplace of ideas.
Attend any controversial protest or rally, and you’ll find counter-protesters. And in almost every case, those counter-protesters will be cordoned off away from their opponents by the government, so that both can have their say and neither can bully, harass, drown out, or impede the other. There is no clearer illustration of how government regulations[in the law, “Time, place, and manner restrictions] actually protect free speech instead of limiting it.
This is even more true online, where people can gang up on their opponents free of the need to physically travel. Bullying remains a major problem on all platforms in spite of abundant policies intended to curtail those acting in bad faith.
The statements Musk has made, to date, show a poor understanding of the dynamics of social media. If he follows through on his statements, he will be setting back free speech on Twitter, not protecting it.
The public square should not be privately owned.
Among the more bothersome of Musk’s comments as he worked to buy Twitter was to refer to it as “the public square.” I do think Twitter is the closest thing the Internet has to a public square — but anything owned by a private entity cannot, by definition, be the public square.
Shortly after his purchase was made official, Elon tweeted that his interpretation of free speech included anything that complies with the law. But what does that mean? What nation’s law will Twitter obey? Many nations have laws against criticizing the government, and almost all nations have tighter regulations against slander and libel than the United States.
More importantly, who determines compliance?
In the legal system, compliance with the law is determined by a jury. But a privately-owned corporation will not send each and every alleged infraction to a jury. Decisions are made by individuals, and in this case they’ll be made by individuals employed by Elon Musk.
Twitter cannot be the public square. It can only be Elon’s square.
I won’t be part of the Musk empire.
A number of people have responded to the news with some variation of “Twitter was already bad, how can Elon make it worse?” Many of his fanboys — and they are legion — insist people should give him a chance and see what he does with the platform before making any decision. And it’s true, my concerns about free speech may all be for nothing. I can’t know for certain what Elon Musk will do with Twitter.
What I can know for certain, though, is that everyone using Twitter is now producing content to enrich Elon Musk. If the platform thrives, Elon thrives. Every dollar advertisers pay to reach Twitter’s daily active users is benefitting Elon Musk. If the stock ticks up, it means more money for Elon Musk.
I simply won’t be part of that. Again, lots of online platforms and corporations with whom I do business are owned by billionaires, and all billionaires are evil to varying extents. But I hold a special loathing for Elon Musk. I’ll never buy a Tesla while he owns the company, and I won’t use his social media company.
Maybe someday I’ll go back. I’ve heard some compelling arguments from people about why I shouldn’t leave. The most persuasive is that my relatively large following offers an opportunity to do good, publicizing the work of progressive allies who don’t have that audience. But I just can’t abide it. Maybe if Twitter employees were to unionize, that would do it. Or if the company tanks, as many predict, and Elon divests.
Others think this will finally be the death of Twitter, which has outlived the usual social media lifespan, and people will move to another platform. That’s an exciting idea, certainly. For now I’ll go back to blogging.