Elon Musk wants freedom of speech on Twitter after years of publicly shaming alleged enemies

Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s Tactics Include NDAs and Public Shaming of Alleged Enemies

If Elon Musk Twitter Inc. his biggest promise is to turn it into a platform for free speech with few restrictions – something he calls “essential to a functioning democracy”. But Musk, who is known for being sensitive to criticism, has a mixed record when it comes to defending the case.

The 50-year-old billionaire has donated more than $6 million to the American Civil Liberties Union over the past five years, making him one of its most substantial donors, and has discussed freedom of speech with the executive director of the United Nations on numerous occasions. organization. But in his tweets, public comments and policies at the companies he runs, Musk shows little tolerance for speech that doesn’t flatter him or his companies, or reflect criticism from employees in the workplace.

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At Tesla Inc. and SpaceX, Musk has a long track record of silencing or punishing anyone who makes public criticism of a project or practice. Employees must sign nondisclosure agreements and arbitration clauses that prevent them from suing their employer.

Meanwhile, Musk is using his Twitter account, where he has more than 80 million followers and a fan base he can ignite, to publicly mock others, from a local health official during the early days of the pandemic to Parag Agrawal, the current CEO of Twitter. †

Musk defined the goal for Twitter at a TED event last week: “A good sign of free speech is: Can someone you don’t like say something you don’t like? If that is the case, we have freedom of speech.”

But those who have said things Musk didn’t like have seen their reputations destroyed in public. Vernon Unsworth, a British caver who helped rescue 12 boys trapped in Thailand, called Musk’s efforts to help a “PR stunt” in 2018. Musk retaliated by calling him a “pedo man.” He then paid $50,000 to a dubious private detective to investigate Unsworth’s background in the UK and Thailand. He also tried to oust a reporter, Ryan Mac, who was covering Unsworth’s defamation lawsuit against Musk.

That same year, Musk went after Martin Tripp, an employee at Tesla’s battery factory in Nevada. Tripp saw himself as an idealist trying to improve the company’s operations; Musk saw him as a dangerous enemy engaged in sabotage and sharing data with the press and “unknown third parties.”

Tesla’s PR department spread false rumors that Tripp may have been murderous and had threatened to “shoot the case,” although authorities had already determined Tripp posed no immediate threat and was not armed.

Another employee was fired six days after he posted a YouTube video of his Tesla Model 3 hitting a traffic pylon while using “FSD Beta,” an early version of software that Tesla has rolled out to about 100,000 people.

And then there’s the case of Jack Sweeney, a Florida teenager who tracks private jets. A few months ago, Musk contacted him and offered $5,000 to close the “Elon’s Jet” account, Sweeney said. Musk saw it as a security risk. Sweeney asked for $50,000, which Musk declined. The billionaire then blocked some of the social media accounts associated with Sweeney.

If Musk was in charge of Twitter policy, he said he believes people should only be blocked as a last resort, according to his comments to TED. If it’s a gray area, his preference would be to leave the content alone, he said.

It’s hard to get clarity on Musk’s statements on Twitter, in part because he’s largely disbanded Tesla’s communications team in the US and rarely responds to questions from the financial press. Several journalists covering Musk’s companies have been blocked on Twitter by him. Musk did not respond to an email request for comment.

Musk called himself a “freedom of speech absolutist” in March when he tweeted that Starlink – SpaceX’s satellite-based internet service that now operates in Ukraine – would not block Russian state news sources, which had been shut down by some social media platforms when .

“He and I have discussed issues of free speech on numerous occasions, and I know he is quite passionate about defending free speech,” ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said in an email. Romero attended the TED conference in Vancouver last week, and he and Musk exchanged messages right after Musk’s onstage conversation. “I believe Elon is a true bourgeois libertarian.”

But Musk has already mentioned some cases where he believes content should be blocked on Twitter. At TED, he said Twitter should continue to remove content on a geographic basis, as the company “is bound by the laws of the country in which it operates.” In Germany, for example, it is against the law to deny that the Holocaust happened, so Twitter hides those tweets in that country.

Musk also said he would like to ban cryptocurrency scammers on the site. The billionaire persona – and his popularity with crypto investors – has been used in the past to mislead people.

And on Thursday, he vowed to beat spambots “or die trying” if his Twitter bid succeeds.

“A social media platform’s policy is good when the most extreme 10% left and right are equally unhappy,” Musk tweeted Tuesday, taking a stance similar to previous statements by Meta Platforms Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The risk discourages some people from using a platform because it feels unsafe or is prone to abuse.

Musk is focused on “the idea that free speech means taking nothing down,” said Emma Llansó, director of the Free Expression Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology. But if people stop talking for fear of bullying or intimidation, “it could ultimately lead to large groups of people and communities being barred from participating in online discourse.”

While it’s unclear whether any of Musk’s tweets were taken down by Twitter, his account has been under intense scrutiny by third parties, including the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which sued Musk for fraud with his infamous “funding secured” tweet of August 2018. The wording was part of a message saying he was considering taking Tesla private, and it caused the stock to skyrocket.

Musk and Tesla ended that dispute by agreeing to pay $20 million each, without admitting guilt. Musk also agreed not to tweet about specific topics without prior approval from a Tesla attorney.

Another tweet from Musk was criticized by the National Labor Relations Board. That post, also from 2018, threatened workers with the loss of stock options if they formed a union.

But it’s Twitter’s own efforts to moderate speech that have sparked Musk’s recent disdain. He has said the company should resort to banning users less often. That has led to speculation that Musk could restore former President Donald Trump’s account if he became the owner of Twitter.

“It’s always hard when you put people in charge of making decisions about what speech should or shouldn’t be allowed,” says Clay Calvert, who directs the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project at the University of Florida. “The only answer for people who object to Twitter’s content moderation policy is to start your own business.”

Or, in Musk’s case, buy Twitter.

Arun Agarwal
I am Arun Agarwal, a passionate blogger and gamer. I love to share my thoughts on games and technology through blog posts. I’m also an avid reader of books about history, philosophy, science-fiction, and other genres as well as an anime fan. I like reading books that give me new perspectives or help me think differently about the world around us.