I’ve never seen this before: the Ethics Alarms Ethics Hero of the Year making an Ethics Dunce of himself the same month I awarded him the honor. Depressing. Not entirely surprising in Elon Musk’s case, but depressing.
In the catalyzing development, Kanje West (or “Ye”) has set out to also make Ethics Alarms look foolish by awarding Donald Trump its 2022 “Asshole of the Year” award. West, who is disqualified from that distinction because he is clearly mentally ill, decided to visit Alex Jones and babble on about how much he liked Hitler, who had done some “good things.” Being roundly condemned for this revolting opinion wasn’t enough for the allegedly genius rapper: he then posted the design above on his recently restored Twitter account, a Nazi swastika entwined with the Star of Israel.
Quick like a bunny, Musk tweeted,
“I tried my best. Despite that, he again violated our rule against incitement to violence. Account will be suspended.”
I assume that Musk’s reaction was impulsive, because he constantly is impulsive. However, he had stated that he is a free-speech absolutist within reasonable parameters, and condemned the arbitrary, left-biased moderation policies of the previous Twitter regime. He did not “try his best”; Musk’s principles broke down the first time they were seriously challenged. West did not violate the rule against incitement to violence; in fact, I would not be surprised if he posted the ambiguous symbol to see if Musk could control himself.What violence was Ye inciting? Who seriously thinks that anything Kanye West says will cause anyone not in a strait jacket to do anything? Donald Trump lost his account because he was, sorta is still, a national leader, and his statements could conceivably spark violence. What does the Twitter policy even mean? The most likely violence West’s tweet might incite is violence against West. Does that count? It shouldn’t count. President Biden’s speech calling MAGA supporters fascists was more likely to incite violence than West’s provocative symbol.
With this single act, Elon Musk rendered his 40 billion dollar free speech mission incoherent. Does he comprehend the term integrity? Suspending West for his tweet contradicts everything he has been arguing. At this moment, there is no Twitter standard for acceptable speech; it’s just whatever Big Brother Elon chooses to tolerate. This is no different from the Jack Dorsey “standard.”
Musk also does not have a clear understanding of responsibility. His effort to reform Twitter is important to our democracy, politics and culture. He can’t afford to make arbitrary decisions just because he can. He’s permitted a mistake or two, but Musk has failed his first major test. More ominous still, he has shown that he doesn’t comprehend the basic ethical principles that have to guide him if he is to have any chance of succeeding.
Footnote 1: It is also notable that I had to track down what it was that West posted at the Times of Israel. I couldn’t find the graphic on any major news source. In Musk’s defense, the mainstream media is as ethically muddled as he is. More.
Footnote 2: If I tried to link this post on Facebook, Ethics Alarms would be banned again, like it was when I defended Fred Astaire’s use of blackface make-up in “Top Hat.” Who knows what would happen if I posted it on Twitter?