Fixing Twitter is a long shot. But Musk has a track record

In his article “Twouble for Twitter: Elon Musk and the Public Square,” author Jordan Guiao of the Center for Responsible Technology says, “Twitter has become a central part of the public square, favored by journalists and internet junkies alike. information, must-have if you’re a politician or public figure.

And I agree with this statement. But what else has become of Twitter?

In June 2020, evolutionary biologist Brett Weinstein and others proposed a new nonpartisan campaign group called Articles of Unity. The Articles of Unity offered a very new and innovative bipartisan political approach.

In short, he proposed to present two candidates: one from the centre-left, the other from the centre-right. Once elected, the president and his colleague opposite would govern as a team. All decisions and appointments would be made jointly in the interest of the American public.

When they could not reach an agreement, or when a decision did not allow consultation, the President decided independently. After the next election, the candidates would swap and the other would be president.

So the idea was distant, but where the status quo persists or is entrenched, only distant ideas have a chance of moving the problem above the center.

Chris Baxter on Twitter, free speech and Elon Musk

Kickstarting the electric car industry with an electric sports car, reusable booster rockets and slabs of solar panels were also long-term ideas. So were the ideas that it was actually Hunter Biden’s laptop and that Covid might have leaked from a lab, to bring things a little closer to home.

Articles of Unity was an idea that could have worked by appealing to the center-left and center-right, which still represent the majority of Americans and perhaps the majority of people.

It may have provided a practical political solution to the broken lines of communication of partisan division or, at the very least, inspired people to converse with others of different political viewpoints.

Here’s what happened next. Mainstream media commentators began to pick up on the movement. A trend emerged on the final night of the Republican National Convention. The hashtag #JustSayNoToDonaldAndJoe has gone viral.

The Unity plan has started to gain momentum on Twitter. Then it was squashed by Twitter, censored. The @ArticlesOfUnity Twitter account has been suspended.

Needless to say, no substantive explanation was provided to the Articles of Unity team and Twitter censors effectively crushed this new possibility of a new political rapprochement.

This is a first consequence of censorship: good ideas, and in some cases real innovations, are destroyed. But the insidious effects of censorship are much more pervasive.

Censorship leads to:

  • The creation of the ultimate internal and external group. Nothing does more than censorship to magnify our tribal instincts
  • Conspiracy theories flourish, because they are not debated and therefore easily combated by logical refutation
  • Solutions that require extensive and often lengthy input and insights are not achieved
  • Unbalanced presentation of debates and arguments that hampers community sense-making
  • Incorrect perceptions of how societies or groups of people feel or think things that can lead to fear, division, resentment, discrimination and hatred
  • Corruption is advanced, unhindered. Whether they take the form of a political party, a cause-based organization, a topical Facebook group, or a corporate whistleblower, we get new insights into the reliability of those in power and the nature of their actions from those who are unwilling to comply. However, these nonviolent mavericks really only have one weapon: speech. Take that away, and we lose information and ideas and corruption goes unchecked
  • The flourishing of fundamentalist ideologies and religious institutions, such as (revival) racial and gender essentialism movements and some Christian and Islamic movements. Censorship achieves this by removing relevant information from the board and thus preventing the multifactorial or multivariate meaning-making necessary to see through such fundamentalism.
  • The personalities you really need to fear. The repression of what one wishes to communicate causes a traffic jam of unexpressed thoughts. This is then mixed with social exclusion and the absence of opposing viewpoints to make a perfect recipe for resentment and disgust. Since the pressure relief valve of verbal or written expression is closed, the pressure simply continues to build until, eventually, an implosion or explosion occurs.

This is why, for many generations in the West, we have been willing to pay the price for freedom of expression. We have been willing to pay the price at the state level, with reference to the meaning of freedom of expression in the US constitution and law, and Australian case law which is limited to freedom of political expression.

But above all, since the Enlightenment, we are ready to pay the price at the societal level. We agreed that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” and we are making heroes out of whistleblowers.

This cultural norm has manifested itself in corporate media, community organizations, and workplaces for generations, at least until recently.

Yes, freedom of expression exposes both – us in our human condition, and us to the human condition of others. He can be mean, bitter, tit-for-tat, manipulative, and ego-driven. This can result in ideas that, in conclusion, are misinformation, thriving for a while – before naturally dying to truth.

It can hurt our feelings and the feelings of others who are dear to us. It can even cause us to question our identity. However, it is a price to pay.

Freedom of expression is, at its heart, the collective concession the West is willing to make to put our perception of truth, in all its flaws and inconsistencies, on the table. And everyone does the same. And we look at their perception of truth and we look at our perception of truth and we find out, sometimes alone, sometimes together, how we’re going to move forward in our lives.

In this way, freedom of speech is the best long-term vaccine we have against almost everything we fear from our fellow human beings. But will we ignore the prescription, fear the needle, or step into the unknown and embrace the process of creating meaning?

Coming back to Jordan Guiao’s article, I want to address what seems like a pretty mean-spirited perspective on the character of Elon Musk. When his words and actions are viewed objectively, it’s easy to see that Elon’s outlook is very selfless.

If it’s people’s words that concern Jordan most, I challenge him to find a single interview with Elon where his single-minded obsession with the preservation and advancement of humanity isn’t deeply sincere and clear. Any other conclusion could only be called deeply cynical.

That being said, true altruism is not proven by what people say but by what people do.

With the exception of Zip2 and Paypal, none of Musk’s businesses are the type of business someone primarily motivated by financial gain would find. As businesses, they were simply far too risky – they were quintessential long shots.

It has been widely reported how Elon put his wealth on the line to lead them to success. There was no electric car industry when Elon started Tesla. Reusable rockets? It was all theory until it launched SpaceX.

Elon Musk’s entrepreneurial spirit was and remains, among other things, very altruistic.

The market recognized in its assessment that Twitter needed saving. It had broken the cultural agreement that we have in the West not to censor. Many, including myself, had left the platform for this reason. Musk jumped at the chance, and good for him.

A new chapter has now opened and it is the hope of any open-minded person that Musk, as promised, will embed the ideals of free speech into the foundations of Twitter.

This could be done by aligning the content moderation policy with First Amendment jurisprudence, to the extent deemed possible. Of course, getting rid of bots first by requiring users to be identified, like Elon said will take place, will reduce the burden of enforcing these policies.

Beyond that, I hope Twitter will create a transparent and auditable architecture, including key algorithms, to restore trust in this important public square. For my part, I have no doubt that Musk will.

Chris Baxter is Chairman of Baxter IP Patent and Trademark Attorney’s and is actively involved as an investor and advisor in the Australian innovation ecosystem.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley by email.

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