It’s been about eight months since Elon Musk purchased Twitter and promised to restore free speech on the internet. In many ways, he has made good on that—restoring banned profiles, airing the company’s dirty laundry via the Twitter Files, and implementing Community Notes, which allow users to push back on misinformation without going so far as to remove it.
But Twitter is hardly a bastion of unbridled free speech to this day, and that isn’t as much Elon’s fault as it is the fault of various government entities.
Turkey, for one example, pressured Twitter to remove certain profiles and tweets leading up to their elections. Twitter complied, but did vow to take the matter up in court.
We are today sharing an update on our approach in Turkey.
We were in negotiation with the Turkish Government throughout last week, who made clear to us Twitter was the only social media service not complying in full with existing court orders.
We received what we believed to be…
— Twitter Global Government Affairs (@GlobalAffairs) May 15, 2023
Similarly, India demanded Musk censor a BBC documentary that’s critical of their Prime Minister Narendra Modi and also block certain tweets—even from residents in countries other than their own. Twitter again complied.
Musk for his part has implied that the company had no other choice on these matters. In response to a critical tweet by Matthew Yglesias that indicated Musk had caved to the majority of governmental requests for censorship Elon replied, “Please point out where we had an actual choice and we will reverse it.”
To be fair, this was always going to be a conundrum for the platform. Authoritarian governments are what they are, and if Elon were to thwart their requests they’d simply ban them outright from the country. That not only means revenue loss for Twitter, it also means that the residents of those countries would have even less access to information—especially that which could help them fight their oppressive governments.
Not only can these governments ban Twitter, given the fact that Musk owns multiple businesses, those too can quickly become targets of these governments.
To be fair, not all of the company’s content moderation or censorship decisions have been a result of government pressure. Elon also throttled Substack links from the platform, a company Musk clearly sees as a competitor. And he has also banned journalists from the website who he (falsely) claimed were doxxing him.
It’s also worth pointing out that Americans are guaranteed free speech between themselves and their government. Twitter, Musk, or any other private entity choosing to not to promote or host certain speech by others is actually an exercise of their free speech rather than a violation of a user’s. You have the right to say what you want free from government persecution, you don’t have the right to make others listen to or promote your ideas.
That’s where many critics of content moderation get things twisted and start attacking things like Section 230, but they are constitutionally and ethically incorrect in that. Furthermore, most users do not want a platform with zero content moderation. Most people don’t want to be subjected to nazis, porn, or violence—which is why companies that have offered such practices always fail to gain traction.
So there’s nuance in the conversation here for sure. But one area of censorship that does remain particularly troubling is Twitter’s ongoing ban of advertisements by the White Coat Waste Project (where I am a Fellow).
WCW is a free market animal welfare organization dedicated to eliminating taxpayer-funded animal torture in government labs. It is thanks to their work that we learned about the NIH’s funding of gain-of-function research in the Wuhan lab, Fauci’s program to torture beagles, and the US government’s policies that mandate animals be killed post-experimentation instead of adopted.
It would seem that increasing knowledge on these matters would be a bipartisan concern and hardly controversial. And yet, Twitter continues to prevent the company from putting ad money behind their work so as to reach more people.
Just recently, WCW received a rejection on an ad discussing Violet’s Law, a bill that would ensure all federal agencies have policies in place to allow and facilitate the relocation of healthy lab animals to private homes, animal rescues, or reputable sanctuaries whenever possible. It has 116 bipartisan cosponsors.
In an email regarding the rejection of the ad the company said, “due to promoting low quality and disturbing contents surrounding the Covid-19 virus Wuhan lab leak as well as the $15 billion dollar animal experiments without sufficient and credible resources” the company could not run ads.
As WCW recently explained, this is not their first experience like this, “Even though Musk himself is sharing our well-referenced content, Twitter told us our posts were banned,” the company wrote in an email. “Twitter previously said that our ‘messaging around COVID-19 would need to be softened,” they added.
But to reiterate, the latest ad had nothing to do with COVID-19. And even if it did, WCW was the company that obtained FOIAs and proved our government was funding risky animal torture in the lab where most people now believe the disease leaked from.
So why is Twitter still covering for them?
WCW President Anthony Bellotti said, “As recently as last week, Twitter outrageously rejected our promoted posts about Fauci’s funding of the Wuhan lab and BeagleGate, two historic scandals first exposed by the White Coat Waste Project. Twitter also banned our posts about the NIH’s ongoing painful puppy experimentation, and even a tweet about Violet’s Law, a commonsense bipartisan bill to retire puppies, kittens, and primates who survive government experimentation. Yet, Musk himself is sharing emails and information we obtained via a well-documented Freedom of Information Act investigation and lawsuit against NIH proving Fauci funded gain-of-function. We also used the government’s own records to first expose how Fauci’s NIH-funded dog torture including de-barking beagles and feeding them to sand flies.”
Thanks to the Twitter Files, we know the US government previously worked to spread actual disinformation on COVID’s origins and block content that could have pointed to our involvement. But at this point the jig is up.
Given Musk’s own political leanings, this situation is just simply odd. Is the US government still censoring information, or forcing others to, that could indict various agencies in the pandemic? With what we know about the other decisions Twitter has made at the behest of government agencies, it’s worth asking.
Hannah is a Fellow for the White Coat Waste Project.