As an artist, Elton John has a legacy that just about any musician would envy. From Grammy awards to a knighthood, he’s accomplished a great deal, much of which will live on well after him.
However, John recently illustrated the limits of his abilities. In particular, his understanding of free speech.
On Friday, the singer tweeted:
All my life I’ve tried to use music to bring people together. Yet it saddens me to see how misinformation is now being used to divide our world.
I’ve decided to no longer use Twitter, given their recent change in policy which will allow misinformation to flourish unchecked.
— Elton John (@eltonofficial) December 9, 2022
Now, on the surface, this looks like what many others have claimed. It espouses a very real concern over the idea of misinformation.
Where John misses the mark, however, is in a couple of different places.
For one thing, there’s the fact that free speech doesn’t just let misinformation be uttered. It also allows the other side of the coin to get a say. As a result, misinformation gets countered by facts. People can look at both and determine for themselves where the truth lies.
What John is seemingly upset about, though, is the end of a previous situation on Twitter that actually allowed misinformation to flourish in many cases.
Take the Hunter Biden laptop story, as one example. Twitter throttled discussion of that story, going so far as to ban the New York Post from the platform for a time. The only mentions of the story allowed were those claiming it was misinformation.
Yet it turns out it was those claims that were the misinformation all along. The laptop was real, as numerous outlets have since confirmed.
Then we have to acknowledge that even if none of that was the case, there is not much “unchecked” misinformation on Twitter.
Take this tweet from BASEDPolitics‘ own Brad Polumbo for a moment:
This is beautiful. pic.twitter.com/M8582I5oWr
— Brad Polumbo 🇺🇸⚽️🏳️🌈 (@brad_polumbo) December 12, 2022
Note the added context. What is that but free speech as a check on misinformation?
The notes are created not by Twitter executives but by a group of Twitter users enrolled in a program called Community Notes, formerly known as Birdwatch. Users put up notes that are then evaluated and voted on by other users, creating a system where the best notes get added to some tweets.
That looks like a check on misinformation while still acknowledging free speech is a thing.
It should be noted, also, that Birdwatch was already in place well before Elon Musk bought Twitter, so even if you have some degree of anti-Musk animus, you can’t really blame or credit him for the feature.
Even there, though, it’s about empowering free speech to serve as a counter to misinformation, which is how such misinformation should always be countered.
At every point, the best answer to bad speech is more speech. Whether that is in calling out hate speech and hateful people or whether it’s in battling misinformation, the answer is and has always been more speech.
If John dislikes misinformation on Twitter, then perhaps he’d do well to help empower those who seek to counter it by using their own speech. He could amplify their voices by sharing them with his millions of followers. He could donate money to organizations that seek to push the truth to combat false narratives.
He could have, in so many ways, used his own free speech to combat the misinformation he so dreads. Instead, he took his ball and went home.
That’s his right, too, mind you. But if Elton John is really worried about misinformation, it’s the wrong call.