What is freedom of expression? | Android Central
I always try to take Saturday morning and spend some time talking about something interesting or cool that Android has to offer. But sometimes I drift into something else. After reading way too many words about Elon Musk and Twitter, this will be one of those times.
I’ll start by explaining a little what I think. I hate the idea of a full split into two pages. Left/right, up/down, whatever. There’s always room for a gray area in between, and I think people who don’t get that are both unimaginative and unintelligent.
Every single person on this earth deserves to be treated with love and respect. Every single person on this earth must also do their best to help themselves and others. I don’t believe in life after death so I think we should all try to spend our time here doing our best.
Many will disagree with me, and that’s okay. I’m just saying this so you don’t automatically label me a “libtard” or “right-wing nutcase” because that’s happened far too often when I’m talking about things that aren’t Android.
So let’s talk about free speech, what it means and how it relates to a social media company like Twitter.
Freedom of speech means more than one thing
Freedom of expression means something different to each of us. First of all, what Elon Musk means when he claims he will bring free speech to Twitter has nothing to do with the protections afforded to citizens of the United States by the Constitution and its amendments.
The first change applies more to the company of Twitter than it does to you when you post on Twitter. This is because the government cannot violate your right to speak anything that is not actually harmful language, and Twitter is not the government. The US Supreme Court has ruled that these protections extend to companies like Twitter, and that means the company can censor you at its discretion and the government can’t intervene.
Believe it or not, screaming fire in a crowded theater is protected under the First Amendment, as are racial slurs and other language that makes people uncomfortable. What is not fully covered under the first amendment is classified into one of the following categories:
- Amounted to
- child pornography
- Speech “an integral part of illegal conduct”
- Speech “Calling for Imminent Lawless Actions”
- Statements that violate intellectual property rights
- Actual Threats
- Commercial Speech and Advertising
And none of that applies to anyone outside of the United States, and Twitter doesn’t have to allow speech that doesn’t fall under First Amendment protections his own first change protection.
What Musk is referring to when he talks about “free speech” is that Twitter should stop censoring anything that isn’t illegal. That means you can say something that makes me uncomfortable (and vice versa), but you can’t commit anything like cheating or make an actual threat of physical harm.
What could this mean for Twitter?
Maybe that means nothing for Twitter. Musk is a… complicated guy who’s obviously a genius but tries hard to play like an idiot. This often makes a person seem endearing, but sometimes, when the stupidity is also in bad taste, it makes you look like an idiot. For many people, Musk fits the latter definition, and that’s why so many are upset.
Personally, I think nothing will change because Musk doesn’t buy anything without a plan to make large amounts of money. Twitter is a goldmine of private user data that has been willingly shared, and there are many ways to monetize that data. Distributing users in bulk is not very conducive to this business model.
It will also be extremely difficult to circumvent current personal public speaking laws around the world. The EU has its own rules, as does the UK, but so do India, South Africa and Brazil, as well as many other countries and states. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
But I understand it. People get nervous when someone of Musk’s reputation says “free speech” the way he says it. Just because I think everything will be business as usual doesn’t mean these people are wrong – I’m wrong as often as I’m right. This could be one of those times.
I’ve spent some time reading all the excitement and realizing that when it comes to a free speech Twitter, people are concerned about a few specific things.
misinformation is the biggest concern. There are legitimate fears that things like election or medical misinformation — actual and harmful misinformation like drinking your own urine as a cure for COVID or that Donald Trump won the 2020 election — could be widespread. Currently, these things will cause your Twitter account to be banned. Twitter decided that instead of letting people disprove these claims, it would nip them in the bud because both have produced harmful results.
impersonation is also at the top of the list. Manipulating videos and photos is trivial, even when it comes to producing “deepfakes,” where a person is digitally inserted into a video they have nothing to do with. People have also impersonated someone else on Twitter to scam users or tarnish someone else’s reputation. Free speech means these things are A-OK. If it turns out that fraud has been committed or reputation has been damaged, that is a matter for the courts. You can still do this legally in the US
Graphic and non-consensual nudity are other concerns. Currently, Twitter doesn’t allow content that depicts sexual violence or is “extremely gory,” and none of those things are against the law. Non-consensual nudity and other intimate photos distributed without consent may violate state laws, but in many areas it is perfectly legal and would fall under an entirely “free” endeavor.
promotion of violence is another thing people fear Twitter would allow under Musk’s free speech rules. That might be true—for example, may I say that I wish a true patriot would murder a neighbor who mows the lawn too early on a Saturday morning. That doesn’t break any laws. However, I can’t say that I actually intend to do this or that I want you to get in your car and drive to my house and do it for me. This is illegal speech and not allowed in the US, where Twitter currently operates.
Honestly, despite the concerns, I can’t see much of it. Yes, a political figure you don’t like can have their Twitter account restored. So what? Blocking people who claim that Jewish space lasers cause forest fires or anything else that is objectively stupid is trivial. Life is too short to worry that these people are allowed to act objectively stupid. And maybe someone out there who doesn’t think they’re objectively stupid and wants to read about the lasers. If it becomes an actual problem, it can be dealt with appropriately by the right people.
But if enough people cared, freedom of speech would quickly be taken away, because social media companies can only exist if the herd approves of the message.
For a company like Twitter to be profitable, it needs one thing above all: a large number of users. Users have to pay a subscription model, users disclose personal information, and users promote and share the service to get more users to come. One of the first things many people do when buying one of the best Android phones is to install the Twitter app and Twitter loves this idea.
If Twitter becomes too hostile to enough people and the numbers shrink below acceptable levels, policy will change or the company won’t last very long. Twitter and any other social media company is like a club and only exists as long as there are members. We’ve seen what happens when someone tries to build a new social media site, and everyone from Google to former President Trump’s staff has tried and failed because the interest just isn’t there.
Even if you don’t pay with physical dollars, you can still vote with your wallet and your feet.