Elon Musk, freedom of speech and – the battle of the billionaires?
I went along to a zoom about freedom of speech during lockdown. It was hosted by one of the organisations the Labour Party has now banned for being too free with their opinions. I thought the debate would be short and the result a foregone conclusion but in fact, it was fascinating. The first unexpected discovery was that quite a lot of people (including me) weren’t entirely sure what freedom of speech meant after all.
I joined that zoom with the notion that freedom of speech means that you can say anything you want to, except if it’s something slanderous that is going to cause someone else harm, or something violent that is intended to threaten or intimidate someone else.
Other people said it meant you can say anything you want to, unless you’re a fascist. That one was held up for a while as we realised that some of us weren’t clear what ‘fascist’ meant, and why that was an exception.
Then there were, we discovered, people with a lot of other ‘except’s. The proposed freedom of speech motion kept getting amendments and additions tacked on – most of which I felt were unnecessary because there’s already a law of the land that makes slanderous and threatening behaviour illegal (which by definition, outlaws fascism).
But then there’s social media
Because I believe in freedom of speech, I very, very rarely block people from my own social media pages and when I do, I worry. I’ve blocked a few people because of that little known relative of ‘freedom of speech’ which is the right of others to listen to/read opinions they’d like to know more about.
If I block someone on my Facebook page, it’s generally because they’ve got such a head of steam about something they are ranting to the point where everyone else gives up commenting/reading a thread. That, I feel, is unacceptable because it violates others’ rights to see a variety of opinions.
I think I’ve blocked about five people in a decade. They have to be repeat offenders to make me do it.
Words are a mere puff of air on the breeze…
…but if you type them on Facebook, they stay there – congealing. There are some horrible things on my Facebook page. They are there because I believe in freedom of expression, and I was happy that, where people have said terrible things, other commenters have effectively gainsaid them and, if I stray into saying terrible things, I trust that I have the kinds of friends who will tell me so, and thrash it out. Certainly seems to happen to me quite a lot! – but there are people who actively don’t want to see/hear anything they disagree with.
Lately, there’ve been a few conversations I’ve been in, on my page and others, where I really wished the words would puff out of existence as spoken words do, but on the whole, I agree with Jonathan (fictional professional ranter) Pie. It’s better that the terrible ideas are said, and argued down, then everyone can go about their business.
Talking of business – did you hear, Twitter appear to be blocking Elon Musk’s bid to buy their platform. We’re all wondering why. Twitter supposedly has community standards. It allows vast amounts of porn, violence and misogyny but, apparently, the left are worried that Elon Musk would treat workers’ rights posts the same way Twitter currently treats posts by feminists and gay and lesbian people who don’t agree with self-ID/gender identity/queer theory.
Why do I think this? Because Twitter have dished out numerous bans to people expressing critiques of gender ideology, most recently Dennis Kavanagh but, when JKRowling said her piece on Twitter…
…the responses from the gender-identity crew on Twitter included reams of sexual, violent threats, which were apparently okay with Twitter standards.
And yet, Twitter have just banned Dennis Kavanagh for apparently having unacceptable views on the gender identity issue. Here he is in a debate on that notoriously ‘say whatever you want’ platform, GB News – do have a listen, and see if you think his opinions are worthy of a permanent ban…
Twitter’s standards tested
It’s well worth revisiting the day Twitter’s staff attempted to defend their standards on this particular topic in parliament.
The questioning MP here, Joanna Cherry, is that admirable barrister who was largely responsible for dragging Boris Johnson back to Westminster when he tried to dodge scrutiny over Brexit by closing parliament. Whether you find her as admirable as I do, though, may depend on your own view of the gender-identity debate (war). But what is happening now? What is it that the Twitter people don’t want Elon Musk to know? Have the so-called ‘terf wars’ broken out all the way up to billionaire world?
I suggest you jot down your own definition of freedom of speech now so you can’t get misled, and keep an eye on that Twitter buy-out situation. It’s going to be interesting (and possibly terrifying!)
***Update*** 20th April – Dennis is back! That open letter must have had the desired effect.
***Update*** 9th May – He’s been kicked orf again!
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