October 2022

On the topic of Elon’s Acquisition of Twitter

I don’t pretend to know why Musk made the purchase. I’ve heard plenty of speculation, from him simply being a ‘bored billionaire’ to it being a way to divest Tesla stock, to a desire for some sort of anarchic social media outlet to compete with Bezos’ Citizen-Kane-like ownership of the Washington Post.


What I do know is that the usual mudslinging has lost its edge. I’m tired of everyone treating it like either some massive win or some massive loss for ‘their side’. There’s nothing stopping anyone from doing what I’ve done; I pay about $6/month to Namecheap for this little slice of the internet that a handful of people (and lots of spam comment bots) read. I have free speech here, and there’s nothing stopping anyone else from doing what I’ve done. With a bit more tech knowhow, you can start your own little social network. Mastodon is exactly that, and it’s the basis for Trump’s “Truth Social” project. Diaspora, Misskey, Pleroma, and a dozen more are easy to use, plus alternatives to Instagram, Youtube, and Reddit. The first-gen protocols of IRC and Usenet are still very much available and can be used for free.

The reason why these things aren’t used more has to do with two related reasons: first, it requires technical know-how, and second, it lacks a ready-made audience. I understand the appeal of something which avoids both problems. Truly, I do. However, ‘free speech’ has always been a “free-as-in-freedom” idea, not a “free-as-in-beer” one. The American Revolution was loosely organized in bars by sharing pamphlets…which cost money to print. Some people started their own printing press for just this reason. If what you have to say is so critical, and yet so controversial that Twitter’s changing of the guard concerns you, or Youtube’s content policies prevent your covering them, or Facebook puts you in “Facebook Jail” for writing about them…then I submit that it’s time for you to do what I’ve done.

Now, in terms of where the acquisition will go? I’m uncertain. I’m definitely looking forward to CNN trying to figure out what to do instead of reading Tweets all day if the acquisition gets rid of their usual sources of clickbait – I’ve actually wondered if they’ve joined Truth Social to get some of Mr. Trump’s posts in order to shore up their content stream. But ultimately, while I do agree that there’s something to be said about large tech companies being “First Amendment Compliant” in order to be considered for government contracts, tax breaks, or other means by which to incentivize compliance with a standardized Terms-of-Service which allow for extremely minimal content moderation (none of you would want to read the thousands of spam comments this blog gets every week), I also think that true commitment to freedom of speech involves the acceptance of some responsibility. Setting up a blog like this one can be done in an afternoon with very little technical skill, and costs less than a Big Mac per month. Self-hosting it without a company like Namecheap can be done in a weekend.

Whether you believe Musk’s motives are an altruistic commitment to free speech, or a really expensive way of trolling the people he disagrees with, the takeaway is simple: the fewer people relied upon to exercise your freedom of speech, the more likely you will be to keep it.

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