Due to circumstances not really beyond the Machine’s control, it has not generated any activity on Twitter since October. But plenty else has happened since then to keep folks entertained. Twitter became an institution in a fairly short amount of time, and yet the world has moved fast in many other ways during that time as well. When Twitter was first founded in 2006, the first Avatar movie was still 3 years away. Mike Shanahan was still coaching the Denver Broncos. The iPhone was a future gadget. And people were still signing checks dated 2005 by accident.
That’s a long damned time after all.
Over the course of those sixteen and counting years, Twitter has morphed into many different things. It has become a way to hashtag some otherwise meaningless word or phrase into immortality. It has served as a means to ruin one’s reputation in 280 characters and 60 seconds or less. It has become a breeding ground for bots that mess with everything from “who should be CEO” polls all the way up to American Presidential elections. And of course, now it has become the central battleground in the latest dizzying debate about freedom of speech and what that even means.
Twitter is, above all else, a business. One can question the business practices of its current CEO, but businesses are never crystal clear domains for free speech, regardless of who is in charge. The problem is, its current CEO made “free speech” a central tenet of why he should take over Twitter. And at least so far, there are indications that however free speech might be on Twitter right now, it was freer in the past – particularly when noting it’s no longer “free” to have a verified account, which is now likely to be a requirement to participate in Twitter polls, or at least those run by its CEO.
Even outside of a business, freedom of speech is not absolute. You can’t say absolutely anything about absolutely anyone with impunity. Slander is a great go-to example there. Lying under oath is another example. Lying while not under oath, on the other hand – well, just take a look at how different Rudy Giuliani’s language was under those two different environments in late 2020. And this is where arguments about free speech on Twitter go completely off the rails.
Twitter has, in the past, made an attempt to curtail the “freedom to lie”, for example with the spreading of misinformation about vaccines. Of course, many of the folks spreading that misinformation actually believed what they were spreading, so they think their freedom of speech was in fact what Twitter was curtailing (again, also ignoring that Twitter is a business and therefore not subject to all the same standards on “freedom of speech”). In that light, these folks view the current CEO as some sort of hero for rolling back such restrictions.
Even more recently, the current CEO has come under fire for what some view as curtailing freedom of the press by banning several journalists. The CEO’s argument is that these folks were linking to information about his whereabouts and therefore endangering him and/or his family – a practice known as “doxxing”. It’s unclear to what degree those journalists were actually doxxing the CEO, but it seems more than coincidental they have also routinely been criticizing said CEO. Is Twitter really going after any and all instances of doxxing, wherever they may be and whomever they may be endangering? The Machine has not seen any information indicating that to be the case.
In the end, the CEO of Twitter, whether it be the previous, the current, or the future incarnation, has a vast leeway in the range of things he or she can do (or not do) to make Twitter feel more (or less) like it’s a bastion of free speech. And as such, it is therefore not a bastion of free speech at all. We will all have to continue to find ways to retake ownership of that fundamental freedom, and leave everything else to the birds.