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Elon Musk Generates Controversy Over What He Deems ‘Good’ Twitter Policy While Discussing Censorship
January 19, 2020 - Kennedy Space Center, Florida, United States - SpaceX CEO Elon Musk reacts to a question from the media at a press conference following the successful In-Flight Abort Test of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule on January 19, 2020 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Paul Hennessy / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Elon Musk sparked more controversy on Tuesday with a pair of tweets, one offering a “good” metric for determining if a social media company’s policies were effective and another asking who is behind “shadowy” censorship and deplatforming on the internet.

The remarks from Musk come as he launched a hostile, $43 billion bid last week to take Twitter private in order to unlock the platform’s potential as a place to advance free speech. Musk has encountered various roadblocks, with key investors balking at the price of his offer and Twitter’s board adopting a poison pill to stop his takeover attempt altogether. The entrepreneur and world’s richest man is reportedly now exploring recruiting other investors to join his effort.

Musk first replied to a tweet from tech entrepreneur Marc Andreessen, who wrote: “I predict essentially identical censorship/deplatforming policies across all layers of the legacy Internet stack. Client-side & server-side ISPs, cloud platforms, CDNs, payment networks, client OSs, browsers, email clients. With only rare exceptions. The pressure is intense.”

“Extremely concerning,” Musk responded. “Who is pushing this censorship/deplatforming? Very shadowy.”

Less than an hour later, Musk said that a social media company’s policies would be “good” if the policies equally made extremes on both sides “unhappy.”

“A social media platform’s policies are good if the most extreme 10% on left and right are equally unhappy,” Musk tweeted.

That tweet triggered both praise and criticism. Notable responses included:

  • Will Oremus, The Washington Post: “Old enough to remember when he was a ‘free speech absolutist.’ Thoughts and prayers to the folks trying to parse his tweets for any kind of ideological consistency or logical coherence.”
  • Dana Loesch, radio host: “They’re good when they follow the principle that bad speech is cured by good speech. This, of course, requires free, diverse speech.”
  • Sarah Frier, Bloomberg: “This take is quite Zuckerbergian.”
  • Nick Searcy, actor: “Wrong. A social media platform should not be in the business of deciding who gets to be happy.”
  • David Schwartz, CTO at Ripple: “This is an incredibly bad policy that works absurdly poorly. It rewards unreasonable people and punishes reasonable people. And if there’s one lesson to learn from economics, it’s that people respond to incentives. Imagine if one side is entirely radical and one side is entirely moderate people. For the side with all radicals, only the 10% most radical of their positions will be prohibited. For the side with all moderates, not even all their moderate positions are allowed! This is about the worst policy imaginable. Every moderate increases the risk that moderate positions on their side get prohibited and every radical expands what their side may say. You reward the side that has the most people with the most extreme views and you punish the side with the most people with extreme views. Every extremist grants their side more ability to offend and annoy the other side. Every moderate is one less opportunity to push the moderation policy in your side’s favor. Want to call everyone the n-word? Start convincing people that it’s okay and move them in that direction to get it allowed. It really looks like Musk has literally never spoken to anyone who has tangled with social media moderation problems at all and is just listing off the top of his head all the policies that sounds good to someone who does not understand the problem at all.”
  • Nilay Patel, The Verge: “This man would not last a day moderating a medium-size neighborhood parents’ Facebook group.”
  • Dave Rubin, YouTuber: “The problem is that the Right generally wants the Left to be on platforms so they can expose the lunacy. The Left generally wants people banned, fired and erased.”
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