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Update: I messed up some geography in this and removed the error after being pointed out. Five points for me, and my apologies. — Alex
Elon Musk’s move to buy Twitter has proved polarizing. Not that we should be surprised; mega deals are always enlightening moments. But the Musk-Twitter saga has also brought in enough externality that the discussion over the proposed transaction can be a little hard to parse.
Perhaps no comment has been more humorous than Marc Andreessen’s recent barrage of tweets on the matter, including visual and written memes. It seems Andreessen has decided that Twitter is too censorship and that if Musk bought the company, it would become a country of freer speech.
That’s a concept.
We don’t have time to wade through all of Andreessen’s elliptical political twists and turns. Maybe another time. An example of the more clearly worded missives:
There seems to be some sort of collection of venture players that come together in Florida with a certain philosophical streak worth exploring. What I’m beginning to see as Thiel-Musk-Andreessen’s position is somewhat simple: Anything that hinders the ability of a select group of billionaires to do what they want is tyranny.
This means that Twitter — which has a long history of making mistakes, but working on a platform that is at the same time quite open and not so toxic that it becomes useless — is in their crosshairs. How free Twitter is or isn’t in your eyes depends somewhat on your priorities; mostly i think the service has done a pretty good job of balancing things over time.
So, where’s the criticism? I thought I’d go take a look. Some notes from the field:
Substack, backed by Andreessen’s venture capital firm, has a somewhat strict set of content guidelines — things you shouldn’t say or publish on its service. Most of it is pretty standard. No incitement to hatred against protected classes? Reasonable. A general ban on porn? That’s honestly a lot more censored than Twitter. You can post all the visual smut you want on Twitter.com, to pick a sample. Rumble, powered by Thiel, also has an extensive set of content notes. Indeed, the right-wing favored, soon-to-be-public-via-SPAC service says its users “should not post or transmit any message that is offensive, inciting violence, harassing, harmful, hateful, anti-Semitic, racist. or threatening.” I mean, that’s pretty broad and goes against the notion that free speech is something you can’t enjoy on Twitter! Facebook is the last piece of data for this chat. Marc Andreessen is on Facebook’s board. And while Facebook’s terms are countless, its views on speech are somewhat limited — show a nipple on Instagram and see what happens — and yet Andreessen has been content to cash Facebook checks since time immemorial.
How can the Miami venture cohort find such annoyance with Twitter when they support or help run services with similar or stricter terms of service? Aside from the fact that they might not care that they’re being hypocritical, I think instead they’re just concerned about something they want to say getting censored.
Musk tweets incessantly, and apparently without censorship. (Is it all about bringing Trump back to Twitter? Remember, the former president has also been banned from Facebook, where Andreessen currently works part-time.)
Part of me wants Musk to buy Twitter so he struggles to handle the complex social dynamics of content moderation. It’s not easy or simple. And it’s not something you can always get right – you can only hope for a balance between open conversations and the minimal rules needed to keep the commons free from most abuses. This means you can’t threaten to kill people on Twitter, but you can make it as many as you want.
I don’t think what the bunch of mega-rich techies really want freedom of speech. I think instead they want to be able to express their opinion without any public backlash. I read between the lines, but after following the people in question through countless news cycles and reading their letters, I’m left wondering if for them free speech just means I’m not forced to give feedback on their provincial ideas. to include.
None of the people in question need more money. And they don’t lack persuasion either. So why not just say all things? That would be using their own right to free speech – the government can’t say anything about their perspectives, so stop it, okay? Watch what happens. I doubt their views would take them off Twitter. They may stir some disgust in people who disagree, but then so what?
Remember when Andreessen defended colonialism and then had to eat crow publicly? I doubt he would return now. So if everyone is so scared of getting censored, let’s put some speech cards on the table. Let it rip!