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I can’t say for certain how Elon Musk’s thought process works, but his progression in how he talks about free speech over the last few months through this Twitter ordeal certainly provides some hints. When he first announced his intention to buy Twitter, he talked about how important free speech was, and how that was a key reason for why he was looking to take over the company. Here he was talking to TED’s Chris Anderson:

Well, I think it’s really important for there to be an inclusive arena for free speech. Twitter has become the de facto town square, so, it’s really important that people have both the reality and the perception that they’re able to speak freely….

Later in that same conversation, however, as Anderson pushed him a bit on the limits to free speech (including the terrible example of fire and theaters), Musk suggested that countries’ laws should define free speech — or at least the U.S.’s should:

Well, I think, obviously Twitter or any forum is bound by the laws of the country it operates in. So, obviously there are some limitations on free speech in the US. And of course, Twitter would have to abide by those rules.

Which, fair enough, that’s an accurate statement. But it raises questions about when you’re willing to push back against the government for trying to strip free speech rights. And there, Musk got pretty wishy washy, and basically said he’d follow the law anywhere.

Like I said, my preference is to hew close to the laws of countries in which Twitter operates. If the citizens want something banned, then pass a law to do so, otherwise it should be allowed.

Except, that’s not supporting free speech — for a wide variety of reasons, including that many countries on earth are not democracies in the first place. And even those that are have long established histories of passing laws that suppress free speech. Standing up for free speech means standing up to the government in support of free speech.

And, as we’ve noted, Twitter actually has a very long history of standing up against governments when they seek to suppress free speech, while Musk has… what?… a history of supporting censorial laws.

This has become even clearer with the recent counterclaims Musk filed against Twitter in their ongoing legal fight. We already covered a bunch of things in the filing, and how disconnected from reality they seem to be, but for this post I want to focus on one aspect of Musk’s narrative and counterclaims.

In the filing, he seems particularly mad that Twitter is suing the Indian government over its Information Technology Rules 2021, which India passed, and then used aggressively, to try to force Twitter to silence critics of the Mohdi government. The law is blatantly anti-free speech. Twitter, upholding its historical efforts to fight in favor of free speech, has sued to block the law.

Musk is mad about that.

However, on or around July 6, 2022, Twitter launched a legal challenge against India’s government in Court, challenging certain demands made by the Indian Government—suggesting that Twitter was under investigation between the signing of the Merger Agreement and the filing of its legal challenge.

Indeed, just a few paragraphs earlier, Musk admits that his commitment to free speech is literally just to follow the laws of a country, including India’s which are not free speech supportive at all.

In 2021, India’s information technology ministry imposed certain rules allowing the government to probe social media posts, demand identifying information, and prosecute companies that refused to comply. While Musk is a proponent of free speech, he believes that moderation on Twitter should “hew close to the laws of countries in which Twitter operates.”

But Musk is mad because he thinks that Twitter actually fighting for free speech in India threatens a very large market.

India is Twitter’s third largest market, and thus any investigation into Twitter that could lead to suspensions or interruptions of service in that market may constitute an MAE.

That doesn’t sound like someone who is supportive of free speech. It also doesn’t sound like someone who (as he claimed) isn’t buying Twitter for the revenue. It sounds like the opposite of that.

Indeed, later in the filing, Musk basically says “why can’t Twitter just suck it up and block people in India, like it’s done in other countries.”

Additionally, in July 2022, Twitter determined to challenge the Indian government in a lawsuit rather than follow its instructions pursuant to 2021 Information Technology rules. In the past, Twitter has followed obligations imposed by governments, including going as far as blocking pro-Ukrainian accounts for the Russian government. Accordingly, its decision to challenge the Indian government’s decisions is a departure from the ordinary course. And while the Musk Parties support free speech, they believe Twitter should follow the laws of the countries in which they operate. Regardless of how the Musk Parties would have decided to proceed, they bargained for the opportunity to understand the issues in the case, perform their own risk assessment, and have a say on strategy.

This is also bullshit. Musk is cherry picking examples. Twitter has a long history fighting various government attempts to stifle free speech, and had also already pushed back against India’s rules over the past year, prior to the Musk purchase agreement.

Given all of this, once again, it is ridiculous — and completely contradicted by the facts — to argue that Elon Musk “supports free speech.” He says he does, but then he embraces authoritarian governments trying to stifle speech, and even sues Twitter for its actions to actually try to defend free speech. Musk is nowhere near a free speech supporter, and seems actively engaged in trying to help governments suppress speech.

Elon Musk’s Legal Filings Against Twitter Show How Little He Actually Cares About Free Speech

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By Heisenberg Media (Flickr: Elon Musk - The Summit 2013) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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