The “private enterprise” or “build your own internet” argument in defense of big tech censorship has always been a rotten excuse to let Silicon Valley silence rhetoric it disagrees with, and the The collapse of Elon Musk’s bid to buy Twitter (turning the platform into a truly private company) makes it more apparent than ever.
The Tesla and SpaceX CEO, who became Twitter’s largest shareholder earlier this month after buying 9.2% of the company’s stock, sent a letter to Twitter on Wednesday night offering to buy the rest of the shares of Twitter at $54.20 per share in cash.
When Big Tech companies like Twitter have censored users or content that challenges their agendas in the past – see, New York Post laptop bomb Hunter Biden, the 45th President of the United States, reporting on the crisis on the southern border of the United States, an obituary of a mother who allegedly died of a Covid stroke, members of Congress, investigative reporting on abortion, summaries of court decisions on election law, from a federalist writer who said boys and girls are different, The Babylon Bee, and the “Libs of Tik Tok,” which exposes educators talking about their radical sexual ideology, to name a few that a few – a group of censorship aficionados inevitably insist that “because the First Amendment doesn’t regulate private businesses, they can silence anyone they want”.
As he usually does in such matters, Washington Post columnist Max Boot provides a classic example.
After the New York Post published a bombshell report about a compromising laptop belonging to then-presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter – a laptop that, more than a year later, the New York Times and Boot’s own employer admitted it was legitimate – Boot loudly defended Twitter’s “private sector” right to censor the story.
“Facebook and Twitter are private sector companies, and they have no obligation to pass on possible Russian misinformation. This is not ‘censorship’. This is editorial judgment, and it is something that we need more online,” Boot insisted in October 2020. “I’m all for free speech, but the First Amendment doesn’t mandate companies to spread Russian — or Republican — disinformation.
Now that Musk has offered to buy Twitter and make it a truly private company, Boot is singing a different tune. “I am scared of the impact on society and politics if Elon Musk acquires Twitter. He seems to believe that on social media, anything goes,” Boot cry Thursday morning. “For democracy to survive, we need more content moderation, not less.”
What about the freedom of private sector companies to do what they wanted?
CNN’s Brian Stelter had an equally dishonest change of heart. In response to news that “The [Trump] The White House is expected to increase its pressure on Twitter in the coming days and is considering sending a threatening letter for posting fact checks on the president’s tweets” in May 2020, Stelter reflexive, “A letter threatening… what? Twitter is a private company.
Fast forward to Thursday morning, and Stelter suddenly worried about the power of Twitter, retweet the perspective that “Twitter is too important to be owned and controlled by one person. The opposite should happen. Twitter should be decentralized as a protocol that powers an ecosystem of communication products and services.
Salon writer Matthew Rozsa argued in 2020 that “Twitter, a private platform, has the constitutional right to censor or moderate speech on its platform.” It was actually Trump who threatened the First Amendment when Twitter censored and ‘done’ it ‘checked’, Rozsa said, adding that ‘even if Twitter got the facts wrong’, it was fine because that “it’s still a private company”.
Thursday morning, Rozsa yelled that “Elon Musk’s attempted takeover of Twitter is a threat to the free world”.
Elsewhere, he fretted that if Musk took over ownership of Twitter and made the private sector decision to reinstate former President Trump, “it would be a mortal blow to the free world.”
Last year, business media outlet Axios applauded that “online platforms…must be unwavering in their commitment to eradicating conspiracy theories and lies that undermine faith in democracy, experts say. interviewed by Axios,” in an unbiased article titled “How to Deprogram America’s Extremists.” Axios also peddled the argument that Twitter’s lopsided censorship is simply “a private company trying to enforce its rules.”
Now that Musk is offering to buy Twitter, Axios is calling it a “supervillain” move.
Just a week ago, MSNBC analyst Anand Giridharadas argued“Private companies that choose not to publish misinformation, hate speech and abuse on their platforms are not censorship. For the ten millionth time.
Thursday morning it was suggest Elon Musk is an “invader”.
City University of New York journalism professor Jeff Jarvis lamented Musk’s offer to buy Twitter with the drama remark that “Today on Twitter is like the last night in a Berlin nightclub in the twilight of Weimar Germany.”
But less than a year ago he insisted approved the idea that “a private company hosting you can decide to adapt their own ideas and say ‘we don’t want to support this nonsense’. It is their expression.
Regardless of whether Musk’s offer is accepted (or even if it’s made in good faith), she still exposed the stupidity of the “build your own vocal platform” argument. These people never really wanted free speech. They were very happy to encourage censorship under the guise of “private sector freedom” when it helped silence their opponents.
But now that their grip on the channels of discourse is under threat, they have revealed that their cries of “censorship is good, because freedom” were just a ruse to gain more power. Who knows if Musk will acquire Twitter or even if he really wants to? Time will tell us. What we do know so far is that the “private industry can do whatever it wants” crowd is awfully excited about private company doing anything it isn’t with. Okay.
Elle Reynolds is an associate editor at The Federalist and earned her BA in government from Patrick Henry College with a minor in journalism. You can follow his work on Twitter at @_etreynolds.