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It's hard to overstate how different "We will moderate based on what is illegal" is from "...illegal or destructive to the world, or wrong, or bad." That second sentence is just saying "moderation will remain centralized and subjective...but I will be in control of it." I understand that he was just answering questions during an event, but it does show that this just isn't something he's thought very critically about.

It seems likely that, when given just a few more examples of how truly difficult it is to balance open speech with creating a sustainable platform that people do not flee, Elon will back out of this deal. There are lots of reasons for him to back out of the deal as well, including the fact that, if he doesn't he becomes the bogeyman. He has a tremendously strong brand, but even his personal brand would take a beating in such a controversial role.


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Good morning John.

So, I'm doing this, apparently. Let's do a timeline.

On March 25th, Elon Musk tweeted a poll. It said, "Free speech is essential to a functioning democracy. Do believe that Twitter rigorously adheres to this principle?"

The next day, after 70% of the 2 million people who voted in that pall said that they did not, he quote tweeted that poll, saying that, "Given twitter serves as the de facto public town square," I will give you "a de facto town square". I will not give you "the".

"Failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracies. What should be done? Is a new platform needed?" Not long after that, he announced that he had entered into an agreement to buy Twitter.

That was a very loud week, and the takes were very hot, but there was a concern that I think that has borne out, that Elon Musk had kind of viewed Twitter from a really particular lens, as a guy who was a billionaire with 80 millions followers. It's not the most typical Twitter experience.

One very well-known effect in the social internet is that in spaces where harassment is allowed to sort of run unchecked, a lot of people just leave, which is kind of empowering for the harasser, because they get to see that their harassment has resulted in the voices of the people they chased away no longer being heard in that space.

And harassment is always going to affect people with less power more than people with more power. That's just how it works, so I understand people being concerned by the thought that the man with the most money in the world would be in charge of moderation decisions for "a de facto town square".

Elon's answer to this is that he won't be in charge of moderation decisions, because all moderation will be based on whether or not something is illegal.

And after, I'm sure, hearing a lot of frustration and concern about this, he tweeted this: "The extreme antibody reaction from those who fear free speech says it all."

"By "free speech", I simply mean that which matches the law. I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law. If people want less free speech, they will government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people."

And then there was a period of time of around 3 weeks, when people started to ask Elon Musk some of the more complicated question around speech and moderation on the internet.

And then this week, he said this: "They say something that is illegal or otherwise just destructive to the world, then there should be perhaps a timeout, a temporary suspension, or that particular tweet should be made invisible or have very limited traction."

"If there are tweets that are wrong, they should and bad, those should be either deleted, or made invisible." So speech that is "illegal or otherwise destructive to the world or wrong or bad".

This isn't a man who doesn't want Twitter to do subjective moderation. This is a man who wants Twitter's subjective moderation to work the way he wants it to.

And that is because, as a lot of people were saying, including me, not to brag, no one thought, who knew about this, that we were going to end up with a Twitter without subjective moderation. Like that's just not on the table. Where do draw the line? That's the whole hard part!

We were not having an extreme antibody reaction to the idea of free speech. We were telling him what it would take him a mere 3 weeks to figure out for himself, which is that Twitter without subjective moderation cannot function.

As of this morning, Elon Musk says that his deal to buy Twitter is temporarily on hold, as he investigates whether or not Twitter's claims about how many of its users are bots are accurate. I don't know what this means.

And during this sort of initial hubbub about this, I wasn't that interested in talking about what Elon Musk was going to do to Twitter, because I knew that this wasn't a done deal.

And also, by the way he was talking about it, I knew that he hadn't thought really critically yet about how moderation on a many-to-many content platform works.

But I was really interested in the conversation that it started, about how difficult moderation is on these platforms. About how yes, they have got in wrong in the past, and about how maybe the problem isn't that Twitter, like, isn't relentlessly dedicated to the idea of free speech. Maybe the problem is that we have allowed, and invited a private company into the role of de facto town square.

That is the thing that seems like the problem, and it doesn't like a problem that gets solved by Elon Musk buying Twitter, but it is a problem that gets solved by something, cause hey, nothing lasts forever.

John, I'll see you on Tuesday.