Opinion | What Does Elon Musk Want? Is Twitter the Way to Get It? – The New York Times

Posted: May 11, 2022 at 11:18 am

Meanwhile, the values underlying dynamism above all, the special pedestal given to free thinking and free speech are also more suspect within liberalism today. In their place is a new regulatory spirit around culture as well as economics, a how-much-is-too-much attitude toward the circulation of potentially dangerous ideas, a belief in institutions of scientific and intellectual authority but not necessarily institutions devoted to wide-open inquiry.

Just as a dynamist might, at the extreme of the orientation, prefer a monarchy that protects innovation over a democracy that discourages it, some of todays progressives are making the same move in reverse: If democracy is endangered by technological change and unfettered free speech, then so much the worse for free speech. The important thing is to save democratic self-government, even if you have to temporarily take the liberties out of the American Civil Liberties Union or put away your John Stuart Mill.

Whatever else Musk wants with Twitter and obviously you should assume that he wants to make a lot of money this seems like the ideological trend he hopes to resist or halt: the liberal retreat from dynamism, the progressive turn toward ideological regulation, the pervasive left-wing fear that the First Amendment and free speech are being weaponized by authoritarians and need some kind of check.

So now the question: If this was your ambition setting aside whether you think its admirable or dangerous would buying Twitter make sense?

The affirmative theory holds that because Twitter is both an essential digital town square and a place particularly populated by well-educated liberals, if Musk can make it succeed with a lighter-footprint approach to content moderation, from a dynamist perspective he might hope to accomplish two goals at once. First, he would be simply sustaining an important space in which free debate can happen. Second assuming that he could come up with a light footprint that left-leaning users would accept he would be gently training Twitters liberals back into their Obama-era belief that openness and dynamism are good things, that a marketplace of ideas can work without constant ideological supervision and constraint.

The more skeptical theory, on the other hand, suggests that Musk may be making a mistake somewhat characteristic of the Silicon Valley mentality and overestimating the importance of novel virtual spaces compared with the legacy institutions East Coast, brick and mortar, academic and bureaucratic that still give contemporary liberalism its actual shape and direction. That is to say, what you see on Twitter, the fads and mobs and performativity, may accelerate certain ideological transformations, but social media isnt actually the place where these shifts are taking shape; its just the space in which the change becomes visible and legible to people on the outside.

So, for instance, if important media institutions are more doubtful about free speech than in the past, or if important academic fields are more likely to impose ideological loyalty oaths, or if important foundations and funders are creating a climate of intellectual conformity, a social media town platform is too far downstream of those changes to really help reverse them.

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Opinion | What Does Elon Musk Want? Is Twitter the Way to Get It? - The New York Times

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