05 Apr 2022 Elon Musk Restores Hope to Free Speech
Elon Musk has become Twitter’s largest stakeholder after purchasing a 9.2 percent stake in the company, according to a recent SEC filing. The filing, dated March 14, shows that the Tesla and SpaceX CEO now owns nearly 73.5 million shares of the company, sending shares increasing by 28 percent after the news became public.
Less than two weeks after acquiring the shares, but before it was publicly known, Elon Musk made news when he criticized Twitter for its history of suppressing free speech. On March 25, Musk posted the following poll on Twitter: “Free speech is essential to a functioning democracy. Do you believe Twitter rigorously adheres to this principle?” He followed up by stating, “The consequences of this poll will be important. Please vote carefully.”
The Twittersphere responded overwhelmingly that the platform couldn’t care less about free speech. Out of more than 2 million votes cast, just over 70 percent indicated that poll takers did not believe that Twitter adhered to free speech principles. Less than 30 percent said they believed Twitter upheld free speech, indicating few believe the social media giant is a good steward of one of our nation’s most precious and fundamental rights.
After posting the final poll results, Musk criticized Twitter for its suppression of free speech. “Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy,” he tweeted the next day. “What should be done?” he asked users. “Is a new platform needed?”
Becoming the company’s largest stakeholder may be the first step in doing just that: transforming Twitter into a new platform.
If any company needs a transformation when it comes to its free speech policy, it’s Twitter. To be sure, the new Twitter CEO, Parag Agrawal, has openly expressed Twitter’s disregard for the vital First Amendment right. “Our role is not to be bound by the First Amendment, but our role is to serve a healthy public conversation and our moves are reflective of things that we believe lead to a healthier public conversation,” Agrawal said in 2020 during an interview with Technology Review when he was still Twitter’s Chief Technology Officer.
Twitter notoriously suppressed the Hunter Biden laptop story in the fall of 2020. In doing so, it temporarily banned the NY Post, one of the country’s largest news outlets, from its platform after posting the story. Twitter also blocked those sharing the NY Post story, including former President Trump’s press secretary at the time. A year and a half later, left-wing media outlets the New York Times and the Washington Post have finally acknowledged the veracity of the story, despite having covered it up at the time of its release and dismissing it as so-called Russian disinformation.
Twitter also infamously permanently banned former President Trump in response to the events of January 6 at the U.S. Capitol. In doing so, Twitter leadership said that the former president would remain banned even if he were to run for public office in the future. And most recently making headlines was Twitter’s move to ban the conservative satirical outlet the Babylon Bee. The outlet’s crime? Naming a senior Biden Administration official “Man of the Year” in response to USA TODAY naming the now transgender female one of its “Women of the Year.”
Many view Musk’s new stake in the company as a sign of hope that he can turn the platform into a space where all points of view can be expressed—not just those belonging to a self-serving left-wing echo chamber.
Unfortunately, it’s not just free speech that Twitter takes issue with. It also has insisted on “diversity, equity and inclusion” hiring policies that place superficial surface characteristics ahead of merit. To combat this, FEP has placed a proposal on Twitter’s ballot this year. The proposal requests:
that the Board of Directors commission an audit analyzing the Company’s impacts on civil rights and non-discrimination, and the impacts of those issues on the Company’s business. The audit may, in the Board’s discretion, be conducted by an independent and unbiased third party with input from civil rights organizations, public-interest litigation groups, employees and other stakeholders – of a wide spectrum of viewpoints and perspectives. A report on the audit, prepared at reasonable cost and omitting confidential or proprietary information, should be publicly disclosed on the Company’s website.
Unsurprisingly, Twitter is opposing FEP’s proposal.
The place and time of Twitter’s 2022 annual shareholder meeting has yet to be announced, but one can be sure that with Elon Musk now the company’s largest shareholder, it is forecast to be an interesting one.