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Local View: Musk gives free speech needed life support

Announcing that he had reached a deal to acquire Twitter, Musk asserted that “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”

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Benjamin Ayanian
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Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter holds a lot of promise for free speech in America, something which has taken a real beating in the last couple of years.

Just before the 2020 presidential election, Twitter trounced free speech when it blocked circulation of the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story , viewing it as possible disinformation. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Facebook banned discussions of the possibility that the coronavirus was man-made or manufactured, writing it off as a racist conspiracy.

Today, the Hunter Biden story is mainstream — even "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" have admitted to the authenticity of the laptop — and the Wuhan lab-leak theory, a now commonly held view, has been discussed in major media outlets as a legitimate possibility for almost a year.

Despite the clear mistakes social media companies have made and the harm they’ve brought to public discourse, Barack Obama, the darling of the Democrat Party, wants more censorship, not less.

Last week, Obama spoke at Stanford University and promoted government regulation of social media platforms, as he argued the “moderation” of content by social media companies “doesn’t go far enough” to combat what he dubs “clearly dangerous content.”

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It’s important to note that free speech has not only been under attack online or by the left. Ron Desantis, the Republican governor of Florida, recently revoked Disney’s special tax status after the company vocally opposed Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law. Companies shouldn’t get special privileges, and Disney doesn’t deserve special tax status, but that’s beside the point. Gov. DeSantis did what he did in retaliation against Disney’s political statements. It was a blatant attack on free speech and likely a violation of the First Amendment.

These are just a few examples in a sea of many. Musk’s acquisition of Twitter provides a much needed and timely win for free speech. Announcing that he had reached a deal to acquire Twitter, Musk asserted that “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.” It’s incredibly refreshing to hear an influential leader and an owner of a social media platform unequivocally support open discourse.

Is free speech perfect? Absolutely not. People lie, and disinformation often spreads online. We all remember too well that Donald Trump and his supporters spread conspiracy theories following the 2020 election on social media, despite little evidence that the election was stolen.

As Nobel Prize-winning economist F.A. Hayek once wrote, “(A philosophy of freedom) is as remote from perfectionism as it is from the hurry and impatience of the passionate reformer, whose indignation about particular evils so often blinds him to the harm and injustice that the realization of his plans is likely to produce.” Freedom is not perfect, but content restriction in the name of stopping disinformation has undeniably brought harm and injustice to civil discourse.

The reality is that social media companies are no more adept at ascertaining truth than their users, and we cannot entrust them to save us from ourselves. In their quest to protect us with censorship, they often make mistakes, censoring real information and engaging in viewpoint discrimination. It is encouraging to see Elon Musk, an avid free speech advocate, take the reins of a platform that has shown hostility to free speech in a time when our most important liberty is under attack from politicians on both the left and the right.

Benjamin Ayanian is a student studying philosophy, business law and political science at the University of Minnesota. He is also a contributor at Young Voices, a PR firm and talent agency for young, pro-liberty writers. His Twitter is @BenjaminAyanian.

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