‘Dangerous’ to allow free speech on social media, journalism scholar says
A Columbia University journalism fellow said Elon Musk’s support for free speech on X, formerly known as Twitter, is both “immoral” and “dangerous.”
Anika Navaroli used to work on Twitter’s “Trust and Safety Team,” the unit within the company that censored information, oftentimes true. Musk eliminated the team. She now is a senior fellow at Columbia’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism.
“What has now become clear is that Musk’s vision of speech on X is one of the greatest dangers to democracy, especially leading into the 2024 elections,” Navaroli (pictured) wrote on Thursday in The Hill.
She praised workers like herself for “thanklessly” working behind the scenes to defend “institutions.” Navoli and her co-workers, in her telling, “were one of the last defenses to American democracy leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021 mob attack on Congress” which “led ultimately to our deplatforming former President Donald Trump.”
Much like poll workers, social media trust and safety workers toil thanklessly and behind the scenes for years to protect the safety and integrity of our most vital democratic institutions. Rather than invest in that crucial work, Musk took a page out of Trump’s playbook, repeatedly and publicly attacking trust and safety workers. He unleashed the Twitter Files, which revealed the names, images, and contact information of former Twitter trust and safety employees.
The journalism fellow said speech is “evolving,” “complicated,” and “sticky.”
“It requires tradeoffs, flexibility, and tough decisions. It shouldn’t be dictated by an autocratic CEO with absolutist ideologies,” Navoli wrote, repeating prior statements she has made on the subject.
“Instead of asking just free speech versus safety to say free speech for whom and public safety for whom,” she previously said during a Congressional hearing. “So whose free expression are we protecting at the expense of whose safety and whose safety are we willing to allow to go the winds so that people can speak freely.”
She is correct in that our conceptions of speech are complicated – I do not think there is some broad First Amendment right for the authors of pornographic books targeting kids to have their works in libraries.
Nor are men cross-dressing and scandalizing kids equal to the concerned parent speaking out at a school board meeting about sexualized curriculum in terms of the First Amendment. (Neither does the Biden administration, which favors the former but not the latter).
But I don’t think it is “complicated” that there was true and verified information about Hunter Biden’s laptop that the Twitter team censored.
Navoli’s fears are just the latest that began more than a year ago, prior to Musk’s completion of his purchase of the platform in October 2022.
For example, a Vanderbilt law professor said the purchase was “deeply troubling.”
University of California Berkeley Professor Robert Reich also believes Musk’s support for open debate on social media is a threat to “democracy,” calling it “the dream of every dictator, strongman, demagogue and modern-day robber baron on Earth.”
“In Musk’s vision of Twitter and the internet, he’d be the wizard behind the curtain – projecting on the world’s screen a fake image of a brave new world empowering everyone,” President Bill Clinton’s former Labor Secretary wrote.
X is still plagued with throttling problems, as The College Fix has seen. But overall the platform has improved and truthful speech (i.e. on gender) is better respected.
That is a good thing and not complicated at all.