Editor’s note: There are no true answers, only more questions. Ask yours at firstname.lastname@example.org
Now that free-speech champion Elon Musk has taken the reins at Twitter, will you finally join? And if you do, will you rent a blue check from their new ego validation system?
Freedom of Screech
Hmmm, let me think about that for all of a half a second. Okay, I’m done. Yeah, no. I’d rather eat a bowl of live puppies with dead-kitten sprinkles than join the “new and improved” Twitter. I probably shouldn’t say that, of course. Everyone’s favorite publicity-tapeworm of a billionaire – the man who puts the “ass” in Asperger’s – will likely acquire Substack and ruin my life one day. Much as he is ruining the lives of the 50 percent or so of the Twitter workforce he’s sacking in yet another of his impulsive man-baby tantrums. Perhaps only someone as capricious and unbalanced as Elon Musk could make me almost feel sorry for Twitter executives, who have now been helping befoul the public square since 2006. Which, to put a time frame around it that Musk might better relate to, was roughly four illegitimate children ago. (Admittedly kind of impressive, fertility-wise – Herschel Walker numbers!) Here’s hoping he pays more careful attention to his new baby than he seemingly has to his old ones.
But I’ve resisted joining The Borg since the beginning – despite the pressure of media peers who basically live on Twitter – not for any ideological reasons. Just because undergoing a hive-mind lobotomy has never been high on my to-do list. I don’t need to be more online to ignore what the Village Kvetchers are kvetching about on any given day. I can already do that in meatspace. (Note to Kanye: my use of Yiddish is not an anti-Semitic swipe – don’t get excited.)
Not to brag, but here I am nearly a decade ago, beating the snot out of Twitter for 8,000 words or so, long before blowing snot-rockets at Twitter was cool. I did so in a magazine. (Remember those?) And what was then considered a “conservative” publication, but which would now be considered the house organ of anti-MAGA heresy and RINO cuckery, at least by the droogs who are capable of sounding out the large, three-syllable words we sometimes employed.
I understand, of course, why wingers celebrate Musk as a cross between Patrick Henry and Jesus H. Bonaparte after a battle-scarred half-decade or so of cancel-culture wars. (Sorry, lib denialists – cancel culture was/is real, even if whining about getting cancelled, even if you haven’t been, turns out to be a good career move for wingers: “Please, please cancel me, so I can go talk about it on Fox,” which, in an average time slot, does higher ratings than MSNBC and CNN combined.)
Sure, Musk loves free speech, insofar as it allows him to say whatever he wants at all times without bearing any responsibility for his recklessness. Why, just this week, he tweeted out - in response to a Hillary Clinton tweet about the Paul Pelosi-getting-attacked-by-a-hammer-wielding-madman story - that “there is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye.” Yeah, really tiny, it turns out. Since the Paul Pelosi-was-actually-beaten-up-by-his-gay-prostitute angle turned out to be utter bullshit. And the story that Trump – sorry, I mean Musk – linked to perpetuating that bullshit was a site that also had once reported that Hillary Clinton had died, and that her body double was sent to debate Trump in 2016. Which to normies, might be considered a tell, credibility-wise. (The tweet was later deleted, presumably by Musk, as opposed to the internal disinformation police that he is now handing pink slips.)
Which brings us to a more credible source, Søren Kierkegaard, who said: “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.” Just because we can say something doesn’t mean that we should. And this is not at all to diminish freedom of speech. I’m of the belief that it’s our most important right - in fact, I’m pretty close to an absolutist on the subject. That’s not just on a high-principle level but a pragmatic one, too: as someone who gets paid to traffic in human folly, I’m all for a-holes publicly demonstrating their a-holery, Elon included. And if we weren’t allowed to make fools of ourselves in public, most of us media-types would be unemployed. (Note to youngsters: that’s called “self-deprecation,” an art form that died around the time good judgment did. Around the time, come to think of it, that Twitter was invented.)
But whether we are permitted to say anything we want (I hold that we should be) is a different argument than whether it’s wise to, and whether if we do, we shouldn’t reap the consequences of doing so. If you come into my comments section, for instance, calling someone a “kike” or the n-word, you have the absolute right to do that. Nobody’s going to arrest you, and I will not call for the Substack police to prosecute or dox you. But I will throw your ass out of here so fast that your head will spin, and you can go practice your free speech at human skid-mark Nick Fuentes’s site, or wherever. In other words, I will check you, much as Twitter frequently did with extreme prejudice, even if their prejudice often seemed literal, since right-wingers tended to rack up more bans than abusive lefties ever did. A more useful question than “should standards be applied?” – which Twitter has every right to do – is “were those standards applied equally?” Probably not, since harassment, abusive language, and mob pile-ons have pretty much been an everyday feature of the platform, well before Musk took the helm. Hate-speech, however you define that, has always been there. There will presumably just be more of it to hate now.
Don’t believe me? I highly encourage anyone to avail themselves of “advanced Twitter search” – you don’t have to be a member to do so, I’m not – where you can plug in your epithet of choice along with date parameters, and you can pretty much see that Elon Musk’s Twitter isn’t “becoming” a sewer. Twitter has always been one. It’s just that partisans are paying closer attention than they ever have for the reason partisans always pay closer attention: for partisan advantage.
And neither should free-speech absolutists harbor any doubts that Musk himself isn’t milking partisan advantage until it moos. Much as he sucked up to liberals, selling them overpriced, glitchy electric cars while collecting the government subsidies (for Tesla and the rest of his companies) that helped make him the richest man in the world, he’s playing conservatives by posing as a free-speech absolutist. Which is exactly that: a pose.
As CNBC reported, Musk’s commitment to being a free-thought leader extends about as far as his tweeting thumbs. In his spare time, when he’s not snowing people into thinking he’s the second coming of the First Amendment, he’s busy making laid-off employees sign non-disparagement agreements, asking reporters to show story drafts to his company for pre-approval before publishing, and even compelling “customers to sign agreements containing non-disclosure clauses as a prerequisite to have their vehicles repaired.”
So yeah, he’s a real free-speech champion, so long as you don’t say anything he doesn’t like.
As for your question as to whether, in the unlikely event that I did join Twitter, would I pay for a blue check to verify myself as a person of D-list prominence in the eyes of others? (A fee that’s now down to eight dollars a month, after Stephen King complained about Musk’s original $20-per-month trial balloon.) Fat chance. Not needing to validate myself to others is worth the sanity points I gain by staying off of Twitter.
Slack Tide by Matt Labash is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Bonus Track: Here’s “Satisfied Mind” by the late Jeff Buckley. Kind of an anti-Musk anthem. Buckley drowned in 1997 while swimming in a slack-water channel of the Mississippi River and singing “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin, according to one of his roadies. A passing tug boat wake took him under. It was an accident. Though if there’s any suspicion anywhere that Paul Pelosi or his gay-prostitute man-toy were behind it, rest assured Musk will be tweeting out further details.
You owe me something, but I can't figure out just what... As a Luddite IT specialist (YEP!) I have been using the phrase "putting the 'ass' in aspergers" for decades. Also, "I'm the aspergers, without the burgers." In addition to being on the spectrum I am fairly attached to my phrases - no surprise. Be gentle with them...
Question for Ask Matt: Can you explain your friend Tucker Carlson to me? I understand it’s showbiz. But how shouldn’t I view someone who exploits the attack of someone in their 80s by a mentally ill individual personal gain? I know you are or were close, and I’m having trouble not considering him fundamentally evil. Wishing to be open minded, I’m asking you how you view his efforts to end our democracy. Thanks.