It seems more and more likely that Elon Musk will be forced to buy Twitter, despite his months of attempts to squirm out of the deal. If the billionaire does get handed the keys to Twitter, big changes are likely on the horizon. First and foremost is the possibility that Musk would reinstate a host of trolls, racists, misinformation hawks, and other monsters that have been banned from Twitter.
Musk, a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist,” has said he’s against the idea of perma-banning people altogether. The Tesla CEO hasn’t been clear about where he’d draw the line, but essentially he’s said that anything that’s legal to say should be allowed on Twitter, which means Musk could open the doors to a long list of figures who aren’t allowed to Tweet at the moment. Musk famously said he would reinstate Donald Trump—even though he was kicked off the platform for inciting violence, which theoretically falls outside the bounds of speech that’s allowed by the law.
But the Tesla CEO isn’t the only defender of your right to be racist that’s threatening to change the face of social media. Last year, Texas passed a law that prohibits social media companies from removing posts based on users’ political beliefs, and a similar law in Florida banned social media companies from de-platforming anyone running for office.
Legal scholars have pointed out that the Texas and Florida laws are blatantly unconstitutional. Legally, deciding what kind of posts are allowed on your platform is a form of speech in itself, and the First Amendment gives private companies the same right to free speech that citizens have. A federal judge put the Florida law on hold, but bizarrely, the Texas law was upheld by the 5th circuit court in September, clearing the way for a Supreme Court battle that will turn the internet into a toxic waste dump if these state laws aren’t struck down.
What gets lost in this debate is that, as nice as the words “free speech” sound in right-wing talking points, the market doesn’t actually want social media to be a free-for-all. Meta, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media companies were dragged into doing more content moderation kicking and screaming because that’s what users wanted. This may come as a shock, but most people don’t actually want their feeds to be polluted by hate speech and harassment. (Advertisers don’t like it, either.) Even Truth Social, Donald Trump’s armpit of a social media company, said it would roll out censorship robots to keep the app family-friendly in January.
It’s also important to remember that, of course, freedom of speech is one of the most important values in our society. But certain kinds of speech, such as racism, have the effect of silencing some people by creating unsafe environments. If you want to create a fair forum where everyone can have their voices heard, there have to be limits involved.
Elon Musk kind of… changes his mind a lot, so it remains to be seen how he’ll handle the platform if and when he takes over. But if he or the state of Texas get their way, there’s a long list of angry homunculi who might get the chance to start tweeting again.
Here are the 10 worst people who could get unbanned from Twitter if Musk buys the company.