In 1971, President Richard Nixon sought a restraining order to prevent The New York Times and The Washington Post from printing more of the so-called “Pentagon Papers,” technically the Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force, a classified history and assessment of American policy and operations in the Vietnam war. The Times and the Post fought the injunctions in court, the Times winning in New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971). The Times was all about the First Amendment and Freedom of the Press.
It’s early yet, but at least thus far, the editors of The New York Times have not published an editorial attacking Elon Musk’s agreed-to purchase of Twitter, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t allowed one of their Editorial Board to opine against it.
Twitter Under Elon Musk Will Be a Scary Place
by Greg Bensinger | April 25, 2022 | 7:20 PM EDT
Twitter has never been a place for rational, nuanced speech. Expect it to get much, much worse.
The New York Times has always been a supporter of freedom of the press . . . when they were the guardians and gatekeepers of that freedom. It wasn’t that long ago when for someone to get his opinions heard beyond bullhorn range, he had to persuade an editor to give him column inches in the newspaper or air time on radio or television. It did not matter how “rational” or “nuanced” what you had to say might have been, if an editor didn’t approve, it wasn’t to be published or broadcast.
The decision by Twitter’s board of directors on Monday afternoon to accept a takeover bid from Elon Musk means the company thinks the social media company would be best served by the ownership of a man who uses the platform to slime his critics, body-shame people, defy securities laws and relentlessly hawk cryptocurrencies.
Mr. Musk said that central to his vision for the service is for it to be an “inclusive arena for free speech,” but users should understand what that phrase means: It means free speech for people like Mr. Musk, a billionaire and the world’s richest man. Even as Twitter’s board on Monday was debating his offer of $54.20 per share, which it accepted, Mr. Musk was setting the tone for his leadership by tweeting that Securities and Exchange Commission officials were “shameless puppets.”
When Mr Bensinger wrote, “It means free speech for people like Mr. Musk,” was he stating that Mr Musk will stifle the views of people with whom he disagrees, something Mr Mush has said he would not do, or that it is dangerous for Mr Musk to enjoy the freedom of speech that Mr Bensingers and his compatriots at the Times enjoy?
Mr Bensinger continues for several paragraphs, telling us what an awful person Mr Musk is. It seems that the author is upset that Mr Musk called the lockdowns of people when COVID-19 emerged “fascist“, which was, of course, exactly what they were.
Of course, Mr Bensinger is almost apoplectic at the thought that Twitter under Mr Musk might, Heaven forfend! allow Donald Trump to reinstate his account.
Loosening content moderation, as Mr. Musk appears poised to do, won’t make Twitter a better place; that will make it far more toxic. Under the notion that more speech is the best antidote to harmful speech, earnest users can probably expect to be shouted down even more frequently by trolls and bots. (I am hopeful Mr. Musk was serious when he said he’ll “defeat the spam bots or die trying!”)
Female Twitter users, in particular, ought to worry about whether Mr. Musk will bring his apparent disdain for women to the company he is about to own. Twitter is already a toxic place for women who use it, particularly those of color.
Freedom of speech has been a long-cherished right, but yes, sometimes speech is not wholly polite. It is amusing how Mr Bensinger is worried about “earnest users” being “shouted down,” being that that has been most frequently a tactic of the left, not conservatives. Of course, his statement about the vulnerability of women is both sexist — can the Times allow that? — and Special Snowflake™ protectionism.
This esteemed member of the Times Editorial Board really, really, really doesn’t think that the speech of the opposition ought to be allowed, not unless it is pre-approved by an editor.
Mr. Musk is correct that Twitter has become a de facto public square. But consider the fate of another public square led by a billionaire with no real check on his power: Facebook. Leaks over the past year have shown that Meta, under Mark Zuckerberg’s leadership, has overlooked evidence that hurtful comments on the company’s platforms caused emotional harm to teenagers and increased users’ anxiety and anger. The company knows its algorithms are deeply flawed, but because Mr. Zuckerberg holds a controlling share of votes on the board, external and internal pressure on the company to change how they are designed and deployed has proved futile.
Once again, Mr Bensinger is calling speech harmful.
There’s more, but it is the author’s concluding line which takes the cake:
Speaking freely: Does that sound like a better place?
Yes, absotively, posilutely it does! When the British were trying to forestall the American Revolution, they tried censoring publications and confiscating firearms. The previous Provisional Government in Russia had scheduled elections prior to Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik coup d’etat, and the Bolsheviks allowed them to go forward. But when the Socialist Revolutionaries got twice as many votes as the Bolsheviks, Comrade Lenin dissolved the assembly, and wiped out individual rights, including freedom of speech and of the press. Adolf Hitler’s Nazis used their freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly to win elections, and once in power, suspended all non-approved publications and used their Sturmabteilung goons to take care of anyone who dared to speak out.
The totalitarians have always gone after those who dared to resist, and restricting or eliminating the freedom to dissent has always been a top priority. Yet Mr Bensinger, a member of the Editorial Board of the newspaper which told the Supreme Court how utterly essential it was that the Times be allowed to publish something President Nixon wanted kept secret, now wants to stifle the speech of people of whom he disapproves. On Tuesday morning, the Times had added a “guest essay” by Anand Giridharadas, Elon Musk Is a Problem Masquerading as a Solution, and another OpEd piece by Kara Swisher, Musk’s Twitter: Weed Memes. Editable Tweets. And the Return of Trump. The left really are scared fecesless!
Oddly enough, the evil reich-wing fascist Donald Trump didn’t try to shut down the Times or The Washington Post or other media, though he did attack their credibility by calling them “Fake News.” Mr Bensinger seems to want to go further.
That the Times published Mr Bensinger’s objection is hardly surprising: they also gave major OpEd space to Andrew Marantz, a staff writer for The New Yorker, to tell us that Free Speech Is Killing Us, and to Chad Malloy¹ to tell us How Twitter’s Ban on ‘Deadnaming’ Promotes Free Speech. It seems as though the guardians of the so-called Fourth Estate just don’t like interlopers!
Yes, speaking freely does sound like a better place!
¹ – Chad Malloy is a male who thinks he’s a woman, and goes by the <ifaux name “Parker Malloy”.
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