I am a producer, content creator, and generally an opinionated human being, occasionally to my detriment. I like punk rock music, so freedom of speech and expression is essential in my professional and personal life.
I’ve also traveled to several countries where free speech is not tolerated or stifled, and one can tangibly feel a palpable atmosphere of fear and oppression. Every human deserves to be free to express themselves, and nothing makes me appreciate my freedom and luck of geography more than when I return from one of these trips.
But we do ourselves a grave injustice when we confuse “Free” speech with “Consequence-Free” speech. They are not the same. A few examples I’ve seen on social media over the years come to mind, specifically on Twitter (Now X): Calling a wounded amputee Ukrainian child a “Nazi.” Spreading unsubstantiated rumors and conspiracy theories about vaccines, elections, or politicians. I’ve seen racial slurs, stereotypical tropes, etc. Before you could report such behavior and it would be pulled down. No more.
Since Musk’s purchase and CEO Linda Yaccarino’s hiring, X/Twitter has become the exact hellscape Elon Musk assured advertisers it would not. Bots have proliferated to a degree where I now attract more bot followers than actual followers. For every legitimate follower, I seem to get two obvious bots.
Yet at Adweek this week, Linda Yaccarino declared to anyone gullible enough to believe that she and Mr. Musk were protecting us from ourselves and saving our First Amendment right. All of this got nary a pushback from the Adweek folks. Everyone’s just trying to make a buck, and pointing out X/Twitter’s apparent flaws is not helpful to spending advertiser money, I suppose.
But when does hiding behind the mantle of “Free Speech” or the “First Amendment” actually get called out for what it is? Simple clickbait, A lazy shortcut, a desperate and uncreative way to generate traffic to monetize said “free speech” regardless of the consequences?
Moderation provides guardrails to behavior of the type without which the entire human species would have gone extinct millennia ago. We practice it in real life daily. If we go to a crowded theatre and yell “fire,” there are consequences to those actions. I can’t imagine why any marketer would advertise on an unmoderated platform like X/Twitter. Is it worth the misery?
Yes, Twitter/X has tens of millions of users. But the beliefs, dogma, hate, disinformation, and misinformation peddled by millions of bots get amplified and echo far beyond the cadre of its “community.”
That isn’t free speech. It’s fake speech, and it’s certainly not consequence-free. It impacts users and non-users alike. All this talk of protecting the First Amendment at Adweek this week seems to be little more than a cynical cover to “break-even” on a flailing business model.
But that’s just me practicing my first amendment right.