As Elon Musk buys a big stake in Twitter, let’s consider why content moderation is vital for online free expression.
Not so long ago, self-titled “free speech absolutist” and tech billionaire Elon Musk recently sparked some controversy with a hot take about social media:
Musk’s thesis seems to be that, because Twitter is the “world’s de facto town square” and because “free speech is essential to a functioning society,” then it should not moderate the content it hosts. But here is the thing, while Musk is right about the importance of free speech, he is dead wrong about the rest of his claims.
Let’s start with the notion that Twitter is the “world’s de facto town square.” As of February 2022, Twitter has a 7.22 percent market share among social media platforms, according to GlobalStats.
That’s an incredibly low percentage to claim that Twitter has monopolistic power over online speech, especially if you consider that we are only counting social media here. In contrast, with Musk’s argument about town squares, one should consider every other venue in which people are allowed to express their opinions.
Moving on to his last point about moderation, courts have long ruled out the notion that social media platforms are public squares. Therefore, they should not be treated as such. But if you are not convinced regarding the jurisprudence in this matter, consider this: Twitter can moderate content because of its First Amendment rights, as it has the right not to carry speech that it doesn’t want to associate itself with.
Lastly, everyone, likely including Elon Musk, is in favor of some level of moderation. It would be unwise to have an utterly unmoderated internet forum. For instance, in an environment where anyone can say anything, how do you deal with CSAM? Or terrorism? Or crime? Removing this kind of content will involve having a team of moderators on your staff.
This is why moderation is vital for online free expression. Libertarians often get this issue back to front. It is the tool that creates spaces where people can share their opinions, and while it is debatable where exactly companies should draw their lines, it is, counterintuitively, wrong to draw these lines for them.
We should welcome competition to Twitter, but Musk’s social media endeavors are likely to follow Parler, Getter, and Truth Social in becoming echo chamber versions of Twitter that are ultimately just as moderated.
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