Republicans’ excitement at Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter was evident in their tweets on Monday, which were loaded with exclamation points and happy hashtags. Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) exclaimed, “WELCOME BACK FIRST AMENDMENT!” Sen. Ted Cruz polled his Twitter followers on whether Musk’s acquisition was a good idea, with the only answers being “yes” or “no, I despise free speech.” Rep. John Carter, a fellow Texan, expressed his support with three clapping-hands emojis instead of words.
For conservatives, a pot-smoking, meme-posting enthusiast for electric automobiles may be an odd hero. However, the Tesla CEO’s ephemeral promise to restore free speech to the social media network has resonated with Republicans, who believe they have been unjustly targeted by Twitter’s content filtering efforts, beginning with their de facto leader, former President Trump.
Conservatives claimed their joy was greater than the possibility of @RealDonaldTrump’s reappearance or changes to Twitter’s ownership. Rather, they perceive Musk’s acquisition as a symbolic and cathartic rebuke to Big Tech, which the right has increasingly despised. “A lot of folks have a visceral response that says, ‘You know what, it’s about time they receive their comeuppance,’” said Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.).
“It seems like someone is finally standing up for a value that has been moving in the other way recently: less free speech, less liberty to express yourself — if you’re a conservative.”
Musk’s offer for Twitter was based on the idea that the social media platform, which he refers to as a “digital town square,” is overly restricted when it comes to freedom of speech.
Musk wrote Monday morning, “I hope even my worst detractors stay on Twitter since that is what free expression entails.”
Musk’s political views are unique. After the Ukraine-Russia conflict pushed up energy costs, he became the face of clean automobiles, calling for a quick increase in oil and gas output. He moved from California to Texas due to high taxes, but he refused to comment on the state’s stringent abortion legislation, stating that he would rather “keep out of politics.” He identifies as a political independent and has registered to vote in California without a party affiliation.
Musk’s campaign against content controls has resonated with conservatives. According to a Morning Consult study done this month, about half of Republicans believe they are unable to express themselves freely on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, vastly outnumbering Democrats and independents.
“I and many others feel that Twitter has been more active in banning Republicans and conservatives than it has been in blocking folks on the left,” said Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.). “I’m hoping and expecting him to reverse it.”
Scott isn’t a big Twitter user; in fact, he doesn’t have the program installed on his phone. He did, however, send Musk a note of congratulations, along with a call to “restore free speech and bring back President Trump!”
On Jan. 8, 2021, Trump was permanently removed from the platform, two days after a mob of his followers overran the US Capitol in an attempt to prevent Joe Biden’s victory from being certified. “Due to the potential of future instigation of violence,” Twitter enforced the restriction.
Musk hasn’t said how he’ll handle the former president’s account so yet. Meanwhile, Trump has shown little desire in returning to the platform that propelled his political career and provided real-time coverage of his administration. “I’m not going on Twitter; I’m staying on Truth,” Trump said on Fox News, alluding to his new social media platform. “I hope Elon buys Twitter because he’ll enhance it and he’s a wonderful guy, but I’m sticking with Truth.”
Republicans point to Trump as an example of Twitter’s prejudice. The account of the Babylon Bee, a satirical news website, was suspended after a tweet designating Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine, who is transgender, “Man of the Year.” The account was suspended due to a breach of Twitter’s hate speech policy. Babylon Bee’s CEO, Seth Dillon, refused to take down the tweet, claiming that “truth is not hate speech.”
“It’s utterly broken,” said Harmeet Dhillon, a conservative attorney who has sued Twitter on behalf of clients who have been banned on many occasions. “The firm may attempt to influence elections, prevent politicians from speaking… utilize algorithms, permit phony accounts to continually influence what people see,” says the report.
The degree to which conservatives are subjected to prejudice on the platform has been hotly discussed. According to a study published this month by academics at MIT and Yale, Republican users are banned more often than Democrats, but conservatives are more inclined to distribute false information that leads to suspensions.
So yet, Musk has provided little insight into how his pro-free speech beliefs might be implemented in reality. “Improving the product with additional features, making the algorithms open source to boost confidence, beating spam bots, and authenticating all people,” he stated on Monday.
However, such attempts would need some kind of content regulation, particularly via user verification. Without any moderation, a social media network might become inundated with all kinds of undesirable or objectionable information, such as pornography or terrorist materials, as well as the online abuse and harassment that are now commonplace.
“You have less free expression if you don’t have content filtering.” “The loudest folks are the bullies and harassers who drive people away,” said Katie Harbath, a former Republican operative who served as Facebook’s public policy director. Musk, according to Dhillon, a conservative attorney based in California, would not entirely forsake regulation.
“There’s plenty of space for them to undertake the type of old-school content moderation they used to do,” she added, citing limitations on making death threats as an example.
With Musk’s ambitions unclear, Harbath, who now leads a tech policy consulting business, said the jubilant conservatives are “making a heck of a lot of assumptions” about what Elon intends by all of this. They shouldn’t take it for granted that he is entirely on their side.”
The jubilant tone of Republicans on Twitter contrasted sharply with the more subdued response of liberal leaders. There were much fewer Democratic members of Congress who commented on Twitter, and those that did were distinctly unenthusiastic. “This agreement is hazardous to our democracy.” Billionaires like Elon Musk follow a separate set of norms than the rest of us, amassing power for their personal benefit.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), with whom Musk has sparred on Twitter, remarked, “We need a wealth tax and robust policies to keep Big Tech responsible.” The Michigan congressman, Huizenga, predicted that leftists would be outraged by Musk’s acquisition. Some even threatened to abandon the site completely, much to Huizenga’s delight. “It seems that ‘I’m leaving Twitter’ has turned into ‘I’m relocating to Canada if Trump wins,’” he said, adding, “It’s sort of amusing sitting back and watching them utterly lose their collective minds.”