EVEN THOUGH WE’RE CLEARLY IN A RECESSION, it’s an unusual one insomuch as unemployment remains remarkably low. In part, this may be due to people having left the workforce prematurely due to the pandemic, but regardless. For the 7,500 ‘Tweeps’ at Twitter, Friday wasn’t typical: about half got pink slips from Elon Musk — mostly via email. Some, who worked overseas, discovered their unfortunate fates more dramatically when their work accounts simply could no longer be accessed. Yet, they had to go. The company, by its co-founder, Jack Dorsey’s, own admission, grew too fast.
Musk overpaid for the social media he has since taken private. Even though he’s supposedly the richest man to Occupy Earth, he took on $13 billion in debt to buy Twitter and its ‘bot accounts’ for the staggering sum of $44 billion. It’s even more horrifying when one knows Twitter has only made a profit in two of the last ten years. Its short-term outlook is poor, too, since advertising fuels 90% of Twitter’s revenue, but advertising is declining in the slowing economy. Plus, there’s been a boycott of the company by some who believe making it a free speech platform will somehow violate civil rights, though the argument is a bit difficult to explain or understand. Musk has revealed the company is currently loosing over $4 million a day. As for legitimate accounts, Bot Sentinel, which tracks or samples such things, believes over 800,000 were deactivated since Musk took over, and another half million were suspended. (Twitter supposedly has 237 million accounts at present.) Some may have abandoned the platform out of anger at Musk and gone elsewhere: to open-source decentralized Mastodon, or newcomers, Gab, GETTR, Parler, or Trump’s Truth Social.
The Tweeps shouldn’t have been surprised. Musk was clear he was going to clean the birdcage when he made his offer and when the deal was finally consummated. That the turds would be flushed was repeated shortly before in a detailed memo, here. Plus, the Tweeps had at least one class action lawsuit in the ready in California, for violating the state’s specific notice provisions for mass layoffs. (Musk claims laid-off workers were offered three months’ severance and those in California would be on payroll for two months, then given one months’ severance.)
It’s early, but the world is waiting to see how Musk will handle the touchy topic of free speech on social media platforms. The Federalist laments his formation of a Content Moderation Council that will presumably be staffed with left-wing looney activists, despite Musk’s assertion he is a “free speech absolutist.” And there’s little we know about Musk’s intention to curtail manipulation of public discussion by D.H.S. and other federal agencies that have a sordid history in the free speech department to this day. (See e.g., The Intercept’s recent investigative reporting.)
Politico ran an article offering free advice on free speech to Musk from a former employee, Hamish McKenzie, a co-founder of Substack in 2017. Change the business model, he says, and get rid of advertising. Let writers and subscribers own and pay for their content. It’s probably pretty good advice except McKenzie gratuitously insulted 45th President Donald Trump by remarking he wouldn’t be a good fit for Substack because “…people who succeed on Substack tend to be thoughtful.” This would tend to show McKenzie is disposed towards alienating over half of America, so maybe it’s not that good. Yet whilst hating and complaining about “hate speech,” no one is shy today about mouthing off on how much they hate anything and everything Trump.
Free speech, it seems, is about one of the first things that has to go in what I’ve dubbed “the Brave New World Economic Forum.” And as the name suggests, it is world politics. Law professor Jonathan Turley makes the interesting observation that the European Union has warned Musk to not resume anything resembling free speech after receiving calls from Hillary Clinton and other pro-censorship Democrats. The E.U.’s pressure is replete with threats of crippling fines or criminal prosecution. Turley points a finger at Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who stated that free speech in social media is a threat to “our Democracy.”
Apparently, media and diplomats applaud censorship as much as the pols do. Musk has apparently conceded he may not be able to circumvent the E.U. censorship demands, at least in part because of an anti-free-speech act passed by the E.U. recently, called the Digital Services Act. Its determination of what is “disinformation” or “harmful thoughts or views” is so subjective as to be arbitrary and capricious. The “Wild West” period of the Internet be damned! Turley, of course, opposes the E.U. model, proposing an opposing view he calls “internet originalism,” namely, no censorship, based on the premise that “he solution to bad speech is more speech, not approved speech.” He analogizes Twitter to Verizon, reasoning that the world would be outraged if Pelosi demanded it interrupt calls to prevent callers from saying false, misleading, or hateful things. Twitter is the internet version of Verizon, serving the same “communicative function.”
It’s the Brave New World Economic Forum cabal, not Musk nor free speech, we should fear.