Eckburg: Twitter opens discourse but is not a place for total free speech

Bella Eckburg, Opinion Director

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Twitter is arguably the social media for working adults and the place for debate, information and memes. It’s less about algorithms and beauty and more about how effective you are at conveying information in 280 characters or less. 

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You can add a gif or photo or post an audio message, but the platform comes down to a short tweet at its core. 

Now, that doesn’t mean it’s the most successful social media platform by any means. Twitter launched in 2006 and raked in net losses until 2018, so it’s clear from the business side it wasn’t doing too hot. 

Maybe it really was time for new leadership. Whether that new leadership should have been Elon Musk is a whole other question. 

Musk was clearly not committed to Twitter in the first place, as he attempted to back out of the unreasonable offer he flippantly made. Twitter sued, and then he unsuccessfully tried to renegotiate the price. So Musk was stuck with Twitter, and Twitter was stuck with Musk. What could go wrong?

Twitter reinstated Ye’s (formerly Kanye West) account after he was suspended for hate speech, and it’s unclear whether Musk was aware or had a hand in doing so, although he said he didn’t. 

Musk did say he was working on creating a content monitoring council with lots of different viewpoints. Apparently, some of these viewpoints include outright, aggressive antisemitism. 

I could go on with the reasons I personally believe Musk should not be in charge of something as well established as Twitter, but my issue lies in his blatant confusion about free speech and freedom of the press. 

First, it clearly needs to be reiterated that social media is not the government and therefore can “infringe” upon your free speech all it wants. Also, verification processes aim to ensure the public can easily differentiate between misinformation and public figures. You want to easily determine if your breaking news is coming from a reputable journalist with years of experience or someone who heard a rumor in an open Call of Duty lobby. 

Musk said, Screw that! Capitalism! Everyone gets a blue check if they pay $8 a month! Go crazy! 

And crazy they went. If you ask the arguably most hilarious social media platform to do something inevitably hilarious, it surprisingly will. If you were on Twitter at this time — or any other social media platform covering the events — you know it was a mess. 

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“Is it enough to assume each person will take time out of their scrolling to double-check whether the verification was purchased or rightfully granted to a public figure? From what we’ve seen of the fallout of Twitter thus far, it seems the answer is no.”

The First Amendment protects individuals from the government’s infringement on free speech. If Twitter wants to ban you because you go directly against its terms of service — which you agreed to when you made an account — it totally can. Complain all you want, but you did not follow the rules, so you’re out. 

Musk supposedly bringing back Ye and posting a poll asking whether he should reinstate Donald Trump’s account directly goes against Twitter’s terms of service. 

So if those aren’t the rules anymore, then what does Twitter stand for? Right now, it seems like antisemitism, misinformation and advertiser harassment. 

Bots are certainly a problem for Twitter, as my fellow reporter Michael Stella stated, but so is allowing chaos to ensue on the platform during such a tumultuous time for free speech in America. 

People already distrust the media, which makes it difficult for credible journalists to pierce through the wall of misinformation, so what does that mean for the future when a verified account can say anything? How do you know if what you’re seeing is real? 

Is it enough to assume each person will take time out of their scrolling to double-check whether the verification was purchased or rightfully granted to a public figure? From what we’ve seen of the fallout of Twitter thus far, it seems the answer is no.

Bella Eckburg can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @yaycolor.