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Update: I messed up some geography in there, removing the error after it was pointed out. Five demerits for me, and my apologies. —Alex
Elon Musk’s decision to try to buy Twitter has proven to be polarizing. Not that we should be surprised; mega-deals are always moments of clarification. But the Musk-Twitter saga has also brought in enough external elements that discussion of the proposed transaction can be a bit difficult to parse.
Perhaps no comment has been more humorous than Marc Andreessen’s recent deluge of tweets on the matter, including visual and written memes. It seems that Andreessen decided that Twitter was too censored and that if Musk bought the company it would become a land of free speech.
It is a concept.
We don’t have time to go through all the elliptical political twists and turns of Andreessen. Maybe another time. A sample of the simplest missives:
There seems to be some sort of collection of venture capitalists gathering in Florida with a certain philosophical bent that is worth examining. What I’m beginning to think of as Thiel-Musk-Andreessen’s point of view is quite simple: anything that impedes the ability of a select group of billionaires to do what they want is tyranny.
That means Twitter — which has a long history of errors but is working toward a platform that’s both open enough and not toxic enough to become unusable — is in their sights. In your opinion, whether Twitter is free will depend somewhat on your background; more importantly, I think the service did a pretty good job of balancing things out over time.
So where are the reviews? I thought I’d take a look. A few notes from the field:
- Substack, backed by Andreessen’s venture capital firm, has a bit strict set of content guidelines – things you are not allowed to say or post on their service. Most are pretty standard. No incitement to hatred against protected classes? Within reason. A blanket ban on porn? It’s way more censored than Twitter, frankly. You can post all the visual smut you want on Twitter.com, to pick an example.
- To scold, supported by Thielhas a extensive set of content notes as well. Indeed, the right favored, soon to be released via PSPC service says its users “may not post or transmit any message that is abusive, incites violence, harassing, harmful, hateful, anti-Semitic, racist or threatening.” I mean, it’s pretty broad and goes against the idea 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 board. And while Facebook the terms are countlesshis opinions on speaking are somewhat limited — show a nipple on Instagram and watch what happens — and yet Andreessen has been content to cash Facebook checks since time immemorial.
How can Miami’s corporate cohort find such trouble with Twitter when it supports or helps run services with similar or stricter terms of service? Aside from the fact that they might not care about being hypocritical, I think they’re just worried about something that they mean become censored.
Musk tweets incessantly, and apparently without censorship. (Is this just about getting Trump back on Twitter? Recall that the former president is also banned from Facebook, where Andreessen currently works part-time.)
Part of me wants Musk to buy Twitter so he can struggle to manage the complex social dynamics of content moderation. It is neither easy nor simple. And it’s not something you can do right all the time – all you can hope for is a balance of open conversation and the minimum regulations needed to keep the commons away from most. forms of abuse. This means you can’t threaten to kill people on Twitter, but you can TERF it all you want.
I don’t think what the collection of mega-rich techies really want is freedom of speech. I rather think that they want to be able to express their points of view without any public resistance. I read between the lines, but after following the people in question through myriad news cycles and reading their missives, I continue to wonder if freedom of speech for them, it simply means not having to absorb comments about their provincial ideas.
None of the people in question need more money. And they don’t lack conviction in their beliefs either. So why not say it all? That would be using their own right to free speech – the government can’t say anything about their views, so hop, huh? See what happens. I doubt their opinions will get them started on Twitter. They might engender some disgust from people who disagree, but hey, so what?
To remember when Andreessen defended colonialism and then had to eat crow publicly? I doubt he’ll back down now. So if everyone is so afraid of being censored, let’s put some speech cards on the table. Let it rip!