A flexible position on free speech

In the category of things that I didn’t see coming . . .

My preliminary favorite for this year’s biggest “do as I say, not as I do” hypocrite is Elon Musk.

Yes, the world’s richest man and self-proclaimed champion of free speech. It turns out the dude with the “I don’t give a shit, say what you wanna say about me, I’ll smoke a joint on the Joe Rogan show” attitude is sort of a snowflake.

And a culture canceler, as he apparently fired several employees from his SpaceX corporation on the grounds that he didn’t like what they wrote.

Proving again that when MAGA—or its heroes, like Musk—say they believe in free speech, they generally mean free speech for themselves. Not their critics.

OK, let’s break it down.

For the last few months, Musk has pledged a chunk of his fortune, most of it from Tesla stock, to buy Twitter.

Or, as he might put it, he’s looking to liberate Twitter from the gang of the left-leaning chickenshits who have shackled it and stifled free speech.

Apparently, Musk wants to allow pretty much any tweet, no matter how inflammatory, inaccurate or toxic it may be.

He’s won the hearts of MAGA by promising to undo the ban Twitter placed on Donald Trump, who was kicked off in the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection. Even Twitter realized they could no longer allow a president to use their platform to rile up MAGA to steal back an election that had never been stolen from them in the first place.

Musk has called himself a “free speech absolutist.” He once tweeted that “free speech is essential to a functioning democracy.” 

Over the years, Musk has used Twitter to taunt and tease his rivals (like Jeff Bezos), lefties, and  Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s top lawyer.

Musk and other right wingers have accused Gadde of having a “left wing bias.”

Which is laughably ironic, considering that Donald Trump used Twitter to help launch his right-wing revolution.

A taunting tweet from Musk generally brings in his fanboys. Gadde and Brianna Wu, the game developer and journalist, have said they have been subjected to harassment, taunting, and threats from the billionaire’s Twitter disciples.

“Elon Musk fans are honestly some of the worst harassers I’ve ever encountered on the Internet,” Wu said in an interview with the Washington Post. “So the argument isn’t that you’re wrong about this and this is why. It’s that you’re a fraud and a terrible person, and you have no right to exist.”

In general, Musk’s response to these accusations had been cold indifference. “Twitter is a war zone,” he told 60 Minutes. “If somebody’s going jump in a war zone, it’s like ‘OK, you’re in the arena, let’s go.’”

And then this month, Ryan Mac, a reporter for the New York Times, broke the story that Musk had fired several SpaceX employees for the high crime of disseminating a letter the company did not like.

“SpaceX, the private rocket company, on Thursday fired employees who helped write and distribute an open letter criticizing the behavior of its chief executive, Elon Musk, said three employees with knowledge of the situation,” Mac wrote. 

Mac continues, “Some SpaceX employees began circulating the letter, which denounced Mr. Musk’s activity on Twitter, on Wednesday. The letter called the billionaire’s public behavior and tweeting ‘a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment’ and asked the company to rein him in . . .

“By Thursday afternoon, SpaceX had fired some of the letter’s organizers, according to the three employees and an email from Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer. In her email, which was obtained by the New York Times, she said the company had investigated and ‘terminated a number of employees involved’ with the letter.”

In short, he canceled their culture.

Shotwell’s explanation for the firings was almost as hypocritical as the firings themselves.

“The letter, solicitations and general process made employees feel uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied, and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign onto something that did not reflect their views,” Ms. Shotwell wrote in an email that Mac obtained. “We have too much critical work to accomplish and no need for this kind of overreaching activism.”

So, let’s get this straight. In the world according to Musk, it’s permissible for Trump to use Twitter as a platform to spread lies about election fraud that fire up MAGA zealots to storm the Capitol, wave Trump flags, and threaten to kill Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

That’s protected free speech.

And it’s apparently OK to taunt, curse, and threaten Wu, Gadde, and other Musk critics.

But it’s a fireable office to disseminate a letter critical of Musk that makes employees feel “uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied?”

Oh, my god—what snowflakes. What happened to the free exchange of ideas in the warzone?

Well, I can’t say I’m really all that surprised at the blatant hypocrisy. Just another example of the flexible position MAGA takes on free speech issues.

They don’t believe in free speech as a universal principle that applies to everyone.

No, they think it only applies to them. So they can say nasty things about Wu or Gadde, while reserving the right to stifle the speech of people who offend them.

Like teachers who can’t mention the word “gay” to students, because that might offend some MAGA parents.

Or teachers who can’t teach critical race theory because that might offend some white kid.

And now SpaceX employees who are not free to criticize Musk because that might offend, well, Musk.

Once again, there are no principles in the MAGA cause. They’re only tactics in a larger fight to rile up their base and gaslight hapless liberals who tend to believe the worst things MAGA says about them.

The sooner we learn this, the better off we will be.

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