Freedom of tweet?

When it was announced that Elon Musk had acquired the largest percentage of shares of Twitter stock, people on the platform had a lot of opinions. Many believed that Musk, the self-described free speech absolutist, can rid the platform of unreasonable censorship.

Twitter users were hopeful that Musk could influence the platform when his appointment to the board of directors was announced. According to a tweet from Twitter’s CEO Parag Agrawal, Musk turned down this appointment.

Everything came to a head in April, though, when the news that Musk was attempting to buy the entirety of Twitter in a hostile takeover came out. Musk once again made it known that he wanted Twitter to be a platform for free speech.

In a message to the Twitter board, Musk wrote, “I invested in Twitter as I believe in its potential to be the platform for free speech around the globe, and I believe free speech is a societal imperative for a functioning democracy.”

Days before Musk was announced to become Twitter’s largest shareholder, he tweeted a poll. The poll asked the question of whether Twitter adhered to the principle of free speech. Over two million people voted, and 70% said no. 

One small issue with that is what someone can and can’t say on Twitter has nothing to do with a functioning democracy. Policies are not made on Twitter. You can’t march in an influential protest on Twitter. You can discuss things with others, but those discussions won’t have any effect on how democracy functions. 

Twitter has terms of service, and those terms of service have specifically said what things are not allowed on their site. Similarly, there are laws in the real world about the consequences of our words. We can’t legally walk into a movie theater and yell that it’s on fire, nor can we threaten someone. Doing that has consequences.

Think about what happened with Ferris’ own (former) professor Thomas Brennan. When he was found to have a Twitter account that had posts containing COVID-19 denying rhetoric, as well as racist and antisemitic language. He was suspended, investigated and fired. The firing he ironically announced on the same Twitter account used to say racial slurs.

The consequences of Brennan’s tweets had ramifications in the real world. There was probably a more extreme reaction to things that were said on social media, not undeserved. 

What happened with Brennan, and what happens when someone’s account gets suspended for harassment, bullying or abuse, is not censoring free speech. Censorship, in speech at least, happens when people are prevented from saying something. The consequences that come after speech are just that, consequences.

So the next time Elon Musk and those who want him to bring free speech to Twitter decide to go on a tangent about how people are being censored on the platform and that it’s wrong, and shouldn’t be allowed, they should think. 

Think about the fact that they do still have free speech, but just maybe, they need to learn how to think before they exercise it. Twitter might be a better platform if they do.