Traditionally, liberals are associated with the defense of free speech; liberals ran the ACLU, where Jewish lawyers defended the rights of Nazis to hold rallies; liberals pushed back ardently against conservative-religious efforts to censure books, music, art. But contemporary liberals have taken the opposite position on free speech, working to restrict written and spoken expression within the bounds of what liberals deign proper and true.
The ongoing free speech centers mostly around the use of social media – and especially, Elon Musk’s decision to buy Twitter.
Twitter, Politics, Acquisition
“Twitter is enormously consequential to American politics and media,” POLITICO reported, “and the takeover by Musk will have major implications.”
Generally, conservatives laud Musk’s acquisition of Twitter as an opportunity to restore free speech to what has become the de facto “public square” of society. And generally, liberals denounce Musk’s acquisition because he’s signaled he will allow Donald Trump to return to the platform.
We don’t know Musk’s entire agenda for revamping Twitter – but he has been clear about bringing back the excommunicated former president. “In May, [Musk] called Twitter’s decision to ban Trump after January 6 ‘a morally bad decision’ and ‘foolish in the extreme.’ He added, ‘It alienated a large part of the country and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice.’”
And of course, banning Trump from Twitter was just plain censorship – the kind that liberals spent a generation fighting. Musk has been consistently critical of Twitter’s censorship – or what is often referred to euphemistically as “content moderation.” Musk has made “vague calls to transform [Twitter] into an “inclusive arena for free speech.” He has consulted widely about executing that vision,” POLITICO reported.
Musk’s Twitter Actions
On paper, what Musk is trying to do with Twitter should be celebrated – certainly, liberals of the 1950s or 70s or 90s would have celebrated Musk’s vision. Twitter is a publicly traded company, yet is holds no obligation to comply with the First Amendment, it seems appropriate that the platform that dominates public discourse should adhere to basic principles of free speech. But in today’s ultra-combative, ultra-partisan political arena, any sort of concession to the enemy is dismissed out of hand, regardless of the underlying principle.
Although, liberals don’t rate their Musk-opposition as partisan, rather they rate their opposition as principled and just, a method to preserve democracy itself. How? By preventing the spread of misinformation that liberals believe exists solely on the right – and that liberals alone are able to identify; by preventing coordination between extremist political groups.
Liberal opposition to a more loosely regulated Twitter also relates to the modern phenomenon of rating certain words as “violent,” “traumatizing,” “triggering.” So, it’s not just about partisanship, or preserving democracy – liberals also simply want to moderate Twitter for the sake of making it “safe.”
The way liberals have opposed Musk’s Twitter purchase implies the left’s contemporary priorities. Disappointingly, the fact that one man has the resources to throw around $44 billion on a whim – and all that fact says about wealth inequality in America – has not been a priority talking point; liberals are far more concerned with the prospect of Trump being able to tweet again than with wealth inequality, or monopoly power. And that – along with the abandonment of free speech protection – says a lot about what is wrong with the modern Democratic party, with how far the party has strayed from their traditional values.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.