Political Twitter was once a hellscape where it felt like the Right was fighting with one hand tied behind its back. Now, with Elon Musk in charge of the company, it feels like a level playing field. (And still a hellscape.)
Why? Well, Musk has committed himself and his company to free speech.
Unfortunately, that’s apparently a sign of the apocalypse for some. Including, even, some members of the White House Press Corps.
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) November 28, 2022
“What tools do you have, who at the White House is keeping track of this?” the reporter asks.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre answers, stating that the White House is “keeping an eye on” the situation and saying that it’s the responsibility of social media outlets to police speech on their platforms.
The entire exchange is just a little over a minute and a half, and there are oh-so-many problems with it.
First, there’s the fact that a member of the White House Press Corps—who you’d think of all people would understand the importance of free speech—is apparently actually asking the Biden administration what they plan to do about… people saying what they want on Twitter?
Of course, this reporter would (rightly) lose her mind over the prospect of the White House seeking to rein in her own speech. The problem here, though, is that some of the plebs are able to say things she and her establishment media colleagues don’t like.
Yes, Jean-Pierre makes reference to “misinformation,” but let’s think about how that has played out. Once upon a time, stories about the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop were considered “misinformation” while the contents of the Steele Dossier weren’t. Yet only one of those stories turned out to be factually true—and it wasn’t the one about Donald Trump.
What Jean-Pierre should have said was that Twitter is a private concern and, as a result, Musk is free to take whatever action or inaction he feels is best for his company. Sure, if something illegal is occurring, then the government stepping in makes sense. But saying things that aren’t true doesn’t qualify as illegal.
The last thing we need is the government trying to get involved in policing so-called misinformation on social media. Especially when that same government regularly itself promotes misinformation, like it did with masks during the early days of COVID-19.
It’s especially troubling that a White House reporter and the press secretary are so concerned about what Musk does with his own business while both were apparently silent about the fact that the platform was used to sell child sexual abuse material until the new CEO recently moved to shut that practice down.
So, then, what should be done about misinformation online, if it’s not up to the White House to fix it?
Well, the best answer to bad speech isn’t restricting speech, but more of it. You answer misinformation with correct information. On Twitter, this can take the form of the Community Notes feature, which lets users fact-check posts—and has even been used to fact-check Musk himself!
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 28, 2022
If Community Notes can correct me, then obviously they can correct anyone. This is a good example. They were right to add the label.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 29, 2022
Will everyone accept what you have to offer? Probably not, but if you’re being factual, you’ll eventually win the day. Unless you’re a censorship-happy government that has lost people’s trust by overstepping its bounds. Then it might be a bit trickier to pull off.