Does Elon Musk 'blocking' certain users on Twitter violate the principles of free expression?
Upon striking the deal to buy Twitter for $44 billion, Elon Musk took to the platform to state the following:
🚀💫♥️ Yesss!!! ♥️💫🚀 pic.twitter.com/0T9HzUHuh6— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 25, 2022
A day prior to the deal, Musk tweeted the following:
I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 25, 2022
This resulted in reports that Musk had blocked multiple users on Twitter.
Buncombe also reported that a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit watchdog group claiming to be "standing up to corporate power and holding government accountable for 50 years" was blocked by Musk.
FYI: We’re blocked by Elon Musk.— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) April 26, 2022
So much for being “committed” to free speech. pic.twitter.com/iXsMQYq8v0
Fortune reported that nineteen-year-old Jack Sweeney got Musk's attention by creating an automated Twitter account that tracked the movements of Musk's jet. Musk responded by offering Sweeney $5,000 to delete his account. When Sweeney refused, Musk blocked him on Twitter.
There have to be myriad other users whom Musk has blocked.
The implication is that Musk is a hypocrite for claiming to be an absolutist regarding freedom of expression while choosing to block certain users.
In order to evaluate that claim, we look at the social life of regular human beings.
As you grow older, you develop opinions, ideas, and choices. You often have strong likes and dislikes.
This applies to your choices in friendships and associations.
There are individuals you are immensely fond of, hence you want them in your closest circles. Your liking could emanate from the fact that you agree with them on matters of importance. Perhaps these individuals are fun to be with. Perhaps they are well-wishers who never hesitate to tell you the harsh truth.
There are individuals whose company you don't mind but whom you aren't too fond of, either; you keep in touch but maintain distance. You send them greetings on their birthdays and festivals. You gladly exchange pleasantries at social gatherings.
Finally, there are individuals you simply cannot tolerate. It could be what they say or how they say it or how they behave, or their past deeds. Perhaps it is just your visceral instinct that is driving your revulsion. You avoid such individuals at all costs. You even skip social gatherings where the individual is invited.
These principles are also applied to books, films, articles, and speeches. You eagerly consume content that interests you, you postpone consumption of content you deem to be mildly engaging, and you avoid that which you despise.
Does this position make you anti–freedom of speech?
No, it doesn't. The people you despise are living their lives, while books, films, articles, and speeches are still available for others to consume. You just choose to avoid them.
If you were to use your powers to ban books, films, articles, and speeches that you disapprove of and imprison individuals whose ideas you dislike, that is categorically against freedom of expression and undemocratic.
Exercising choice is an important aspect of being free. If you are compelled to consume specific content, it is against the principles of a free society. Only totalitarian regimes enforce directives and compel their citizens to listen to certain speeches and consume certain content and ban the "problematic" content. This elimination of choice is undemocratic.
Back to Twitter, where the choices are similar to those in your daily life.
As a Twitter user, you have the choice to follow whomever you like. Perhaps you find someone's opinion stimulating and want more. Perhaps you despise his opinions but want to be exposed to them. You obviously have a choice to not follow whomever you do not care for.
In a situation where an individual is annoying or is targeting or trolling you, you have the option to block, which means breaking all contact with the individual, or mute, which only prevents you from being exposed to tweets from the user in question.
These Twitter users prevail and are free to conduct themselves as they please; it is just that you don't want to be exposed to these ideas.
These rules apply to every Twitter user, including Elon Musk. Musk has the freedom to block whomever he despises, and he has no obligation to explain why.
Only social media accounts run by the government do not have the right to block individuals, because the information they publish is meant for all citizens. For example, Joe Biden's official account cannot block Twitter users.
Now, if Elon Musk uses his power to permanently remove users he dislikes from Twitter, that is against free expression and undemocratic.
When President Trump was subjected to a coordinated ban across social media platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, it was undemocratic and against the tenets of free expression.
To sum it up, we must not conflate choice with freedoms.
An individual may choose to have fish and chips every night for dinner. That does make him anti–shepherd's pie.