Like many of you, the idea of a Twitter that focused on free speech was something exciting to me. The idea that shadow bans would be lifted and that opinions could flow freely without overlords removing them or turning the volume down on them simply because they disagreed was something our society desperately needed.
Musk called Twitter the “de-facto town square” and he wasn’t at all wrong. In this day and age, Twitter is just where you go to get everything from news, opinion, updates, live reactions, and much more, at least for the general public. Free speech in these areas is integral for a healthy society to thrive, and while not everyone will be okay with what’s said there, it allows for bad ideas to be weighed, measured, and found wanting.
Alex Jones would be considered a man with a lot of bad ideas depending on who you asked. For many others, Jones is something of a prophet, or a man screaming the truth while everyone is fit to tell lies. There’s almost no middle ground when it comes to Jones. You either love him or you hate him.
While many people hate Jones simply for his over-the-top behavior, conspiracy theories, and memeable outrage, some have a far more understandable reason.
After the school shooting at Sandy Hook, Jones stepped over the line and accused the parents of lying about the deaths of their children. He referred to the entire thing as “staged,” effectively saying it was an op to push gun control and start a civil war. It’s a claim he walked back in August during his defamation case over the subject.
You, like many, may hate Jones for what he said about Sandy Hook. You may see him as a disgusting human being worthy only of derision.
To be sure, Elon Musk does, and so much so that he will not allow Jones back onto the platform.
“My firstborn child died in my arms,” said Musk’s tweet on why. “I felt his last heartbeat. I have no mercy for anyone who would use the deaths of children for gain, politics or fame.”
Musk’s reasons for not allowing Jones are perfectly understandable. As a father, the thought of my child dying at the hands of some angry loser with a score to settle against society gets my blood pressure up. Even just the thought of my son dying is a horrid thought I can’t think on too long.
So Musk’s pain is wholly understandable, but this comes with a massive “but.”
If you’re a person who respects free speech, you would likely say that he should be able to say what he wants in the public square like everyone else.
In fact, the free speech advocate’s argument would be that Jones needs to be able to have his arguments weighed by the public and if they truly are that despicable, he’ll have no end of grief thrown his way as his arguments are disproven and deconstructed without mercy. This may be a joy for parents to behold, especially those who watched as a man with a large following threw the darkest moment in someone’s entire life into unnecessary doubt.
Few talk about the positive side-effects of free speech lately, but that’s surely one of them.
And it’s through that reasoning that I disagree with Musk’s decision as much as I sympathize with him. Musk just showed everyone that his love of free speech has limits, and it’s wherever he says they are. This is no different than former Twitter, and while the argument might be “Musk is a man that respects free speech and therefore we have little to worry about,” I’d have to fire back with “for now.”
People change for all sorts of reasons. Musk may be great now but he may turn out to be a worse tyrant than many could imagine as he naturally becomes a different man over the years.
If Musk had said something along the lines of “I despise this man with every fiber of my body and I will have fun mocking him once he returns to the platform” it would have shown Musk’s dedication to free speech while signaling his disdain for Jones. What he’s done instead is signal his disdain for Jones and showed everyone that he’ll ban you off the platform if you truly make him angry.
It’s Musk’s platform. He can do what he likes, but his commitment to free speech is now in question and that will likely make many people uneasy…and it should.