Is This the Founders’ Free Speech?

Online messages hoping to increase eyeballs from the right or left have flooded the net since 2015. Now with Elon Musk’s purchase of the massive mega horn Twitter, could we see the floodgates open for neo-Nazi, fake news, racist, anti-seminist, and pornographic content?

Musk’s emails at the time of his up-and-down indecision about whether to pay $44 billion to acquire Twitter tried to assure conservatives it would be a platform for “free speech.” Yet, a week after the purchase, Musk said he would not immediately lift the ban on those dropped from Twitter until after a review. This comment gave some security to those concerned about where his statement challenging “political correctness” might lead.

Musk tried to reassure the public that his Twitter would not be a “free-for-all hellscape,” then he proceeded to play follow-the-leader with other conservatives spreading fake news last weekend. Now the quick “trim” of half of Twitter’s workforce makes no allowance for Twitter’s fast response to expected hits testing the protective nets for “free speech” allowed on the network (if any remain). Concerning evidence has come already with a 500 percent increase in the use of the “n” word on Twitter, according to Princeton’s Network Contagion Research Institute. 

For political or financial reasons, Musk could have painted himself in a deep corner for a company that has not made a profit for eight of the past ten years. (Was his inclination to buy Twitter based on more than money?) In purchasing a company valued at $25 billion, Musk needs quick moneymakers. (He took out a $13 billion loan to complete the sale.) That brings us to Musk’s idea of charging Twitter users $8 a month for the privilege. Yet a poll of Twitter users indicates 50 percent would not be willing to pay, even with a promise of fewer ads. While the former Twitter owners planned to reduce costs by cutting the staff by 25 percent, Musk sent pink slips (via personal email) to as many as 50 percent (or more) of the company’s employees on Friday.

Another money maker being considered is allowing porn to run on the channel Twitter. This change for Twitter might need serious consideration since corporations pay the bills by running their ads alongside Twitter so that individual users can twitter along for free. Several large corporations, including General Motors (albeit a competitor to Musk’s Tesla), Oreo (Mondelez International Inc.), VW/Audi, Pfizer, and L’Oreal cosmetics, have paused advertising on Twitter until their future course stabilizes.

Major media companies IPG and Havas Media, both multinational ad firms, are advising their clients to pause ad spending on Twitter. In addition, Musk will meet by video with clients of Publicist Groupe (Anheuser-Busch In-Bev SA and Samsung Electronics), and WPP LLC (the largest multinational ad company with Coca-Cola, Google, and the home products under Unilever’s umbrella).

Americans will not directly access these corporate discussions with the Twitter owner. Still, we can make our voices heard by emailing our support to Twitter and the companies standing up for a Twitter we would not be afraid to share.

In the meantime, could false statements burn holes into America’s “free speech” blanket? Since the Republic’s beginning, few limits have been placed on Americans’ “free speech.” This freedom of speech comes under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution as part of the Bill of Rights passed in 1791.

A lot has happened in America over the past 230-plus years. Words mattered then too, but discourse came through the spoken word, not broadcasts. For example, the musical, “Hamilton,” reveals a time when the personal offense could lead to violence to “solve” disagreements through duels. Aaron Burr, offended by something Alexander Hamilton said at dinner, challenged him to a duel. Burr killed Hamilton, then fled to become a hunted man. Today an insult is spread to 100 million people in the blink of an eye or demeans an entire race by racist comments that disgrace a nation. Is this where we are going? Is this the free speech America’s Founders enshrined in 1791?

As part of my education as a journalist and while studying for a master’s in mass communications, I took several Constitutional Law courses covering the constitutional rights of “free speech” and the First Amendment. Of course, this is no substitute for law school, but it stimulated an interest in the subject.

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