I can’t decide whether it is completely predictable that the richest man in the world has a 5th grader’s comprehension of ethics and integrity of principles, or whether it should alarm us all. I do know that those of us hoping that Musk could transform Twitter from the censorious, leftist propaganda organ that it has become into a fair and valuable platform for public discourse are probably going to be disappointed.
Musk said on Twitter yesterday that he was reinstating former President Donald J. Trump to the platform, and poof!, Trump was back on the site. That’s fine: Musk should have reinstated him immediately as soon as he had the metaphorical reins of Twitter in hand. His banning in 2021 was both partisan and political; as the immediate former President, Trump’s ability to express his opinions and positions on the most used social media platform was essential to the national dialogue, regardless of what he had to say, or how obnoxiously he might say it. The principles that supposedly led Musk to spend billions of dollars buying Twitter demanded that Trump be reinstated.
But what did Musk do? He put the matter up for a vote on Twitter. How does that compute, as the robot on “Lost in Space” might say? Allowing a group to vote to decide whether an individual gets to speak or not is the epitome of censorship. Stifling free expression by those who are unpopular or who have unpopular opinions is the antithesis of the First Amendment. Doesn’t Musk understand that? Apparently not, or, perhaps more likely, he does understand it to the extent he has thought about it in his brilliant but weirdly wired brain, but doesn’t care. The vote was good publicity. The vote would get headlines. The vote would attract new accounts. Principles, shminciples; ethics, shmethics. I own this place and I’ll do what I want.
That’s basically the Donald Trump approach to ethics. Great.
The vote, as also was predictable, was close: only 52% of those responding wanted Trump to be allowed back on, and the vote was only that high because so many anti-First Amendment types—you know, progressives—quit Twitter once it became clear that the next Hunter Biden scandal that might affect Joe’s agenda would not be embargoed until the political danger passed. As it was, we now have an unscientific poll showing that about 48% of the public think controversial individuals should be silenced by majority consensus.
My guess is that there were more college graduates in the 48% than in the 52%—and what does that tell us?
One more note; in a burst of righteousness, I decided to open a Twitter account to vote for Trump’s reinstatement, because, frankly, I hadn’t thought about how cynical and unethical the stunt was. I couldn’t do it: the system kept saying that an authentication code had been emailed to me, but none arrived. I switched to cell phone verification and did receive a code. I entered it, and got a message that Twitter couldn’t process my entry, no explanation, and that was it: 20 minutes wasted. On the bright side, the site’s failure stopped me from participating in a vote that I decided was unethical and hypocritical. On the negative side, Twitter is a mess.
I may try again if and when Elon gets his act together.
11 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Elon Musk”
“…because so many anti-First Amendment types—you know, progressives—quit Twitter…”
Nobody has quit Twitter. I’m sure a handful of the people who made a big announcement about how they’re quitting Twitter actually have, and have deleted their accounts, but the vast majority of the “quitters” are still lurking there, just not posting. These people are addicts. Have you ever known an addict to stop using drugs just because their dealer is being an asshole?
It’s highly amusing to see all of these folks jump over to Mastodon or other Twitter clones and suddenly realize that they’re not going to get their fix that way. Most Mastodon instances have a few thousand active users, not Twitter’s tens of millions. When some celebrity posts over there and gets five replies instead of the thousands they’re used to, they’ll be back on Twitter in a few days, claiming that they’ve decided to “resist Elon from the inside”.
One very good thing about Musk’s poll is that it teaches a very important lesson, in a way that they’ll feel viscerally, to just the group that needs to learn it. This is what pure democracy looks like. The majority won, and the minority just have to lump it. There’s a reason our government system has all kinds of procedures to protect the rights of the minority and avoid pure democratic results wherever possible, because that concept is shit, especially when applied at scale. I’ll bet the Venn diagram of people who think we should eliminate the filibuster (or have proportional representation in the Senate, or eliminate the Electoral College), and people who voted against Trump’s reinstatement on Twitter are concentric circles. This is the “democracy” that those idiots are constantly braying about. How do you think they like the results?
Terrific commentary, Jeff.
Thanks, Jack. Regarding quitting Twitter, CBS News made a big show of quitting Twitter “out of an abundance of caution” (whatever that’s supposed to mean in this context) two days ago, and they’re already back. I’ll bet watching their website traffic numbers plummet for two days without Twitter funneling eyeballs their way was a wake-up call that allowed them to throw that “caution” to the wind.
CBS is back on Twitter.
But of course. They’ve spent years building a business model that is heavily reliant on the infrastructure built by Twitter, Facebook, Google, et al. They can’t just unplug from it overnight. I’ll bet two days of no tweets cost them a lot more money than they thought it would, because the people making such decisions don’t really understand where their paychecks come from.
Same people who left the country after Trump won…
Or when Bush won…
after threatening to do so.
I am almost certain that Musk believed Trump would win the vote (whether out of optimistic faith or a read of the room.) I think he put it to a vote out of some combination of not wanting to take all of the heat for bringing Trump back, and having something to point to when people whine that no one wants Trump, having Trump back will ruin Twitter, etc. But there’s certainly a moral luck element to that game (no matter how clever and perceptive he might be,) and it avoids taking the actually ethical stand.
I wonder if that gambit included some sort of way to smoke out bots.
I did hear somewhere of an urge to quickly create new accounts to vote against Trump.
Agreed. And Musk could have easily claimed the vote needed a 2/3rds majority, and reinstate anyway.
My take on this:
This was really a poll, not a vote, and Trump was going to be reinstated no matter the results. But I suspect that the results of the poll are useful information going forward. It’s not as if such a “vote” is anonymous or anything. If you voted, Musk knows who you are and how you voted.
I’m not even sure I believe that the actual results were in favor of reinstatement or even a close call. The results that were publicized certainly were the best-case-scenario for reinstatement.
Yeah, I’m cynical here.
P.S. I’m also not surprised that the site steered you in the direction of phone verification. Tying your account to that VERY unique IMEI number on your cell phone is highly-accurate way to connect your Twitter account to other accounts you have. It’s one of the main reasons that these sites push Two-Factor Authentication–not because they give a crap about security, but because they want to know what phone you use every day.
Twitter’s (and Google’s, and Facebook’s, and Instagram’s, and etc. etc.) real business is BIG DATA and leveraging that personal information to maximize advertising revenue, after all, not providing a service for you to “text” on the Internet.