In late October 2022, the acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk reached its conclusion. In the lead-up to initially joining the board and subsequently buying the company through a protracted series of events, Musk sold his vision for Twitter as one rooted in the ideals of free speech.
For years, Musk has railed against Twitter’s moderation policy. Most notably, he argued fervently against the permanent ban enacted against former President Donald Trump.
Musk, who has described himself as a “free speech absolutist,” has stated in the past that there should be no permanent bans on the platform. Furthermore, he advertised his vision of Twitter as one that would undo certain policies against misinformation, abuse, and hate speech.
For some free speech advocates, this might have seemed like something to celebrate. Many Twitter users disagreed with Trump’s ban, including those who disagreed with him on the issues, viewing it as a sign that Twitter was moving into an increasingly paternalistic role. A role that could go down a slippery slope. As such, Musk’s eventual ownership of Twitter represented the beginning of a new era. One in which the “town hall” atmosphere would not be interrupted by content moderation.
Despite these promises, mere days into Musk’s term at the helm of Twitter, things already spun wildly out of control.
Kathy Griffin has already been permanently banned from Twitter for a parody tweet, “impersonating” Musk and encouraging his followers to vote Democrat in the recent midterms. Musk doubled down on this decision in a tweet of his own stating that “any handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying ‘parody’ will be permanently suspended.”
A far cry from his perspective in May where he stated “I think there’s a general question of should Twitter have permanent bans? I’ve talked with Jack Dorsey about this, and he and I are of the same mind which is that permanent bans should be extremely rare and really reserved for accounts that are bots or spam scam accounts.”
Musk’s fans on Twitter have defended him by claiming that such bans are reasonable or deserved.
In doing so, they prove they’re missing the point.
Musk was unconcerned with the actions that led people to get banned on Twitter before his takeover. As a free speech absolutist, no bans should be considered reasonable or deserved according to Musk. The whole point is to only serve them to accounts with no real people behind them, such as bots. As such, Musk’s 180 this week should serve to remind us what he cares about most: his ego.
Kathy Griffin’s joke was just that, a joke. Given Musk’s own combative history on Twitter, one might have thought he’d be able to take a few predictable punches and move on. Instead, he blew up the entire premise of his Twitter takeover within days of acquiring the platform and seems to be sticking to his guns that anything that is not to his liking will not be welcome on Twitter.
This has been an embarrassing couple of weeks for Musk, but arguably even more so for anyone who thought someone with a fragile ego would ever be able to resist the allure of abuse of power when people make a joke at their expense.
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This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.