Freedom Of Speech In The Age Of Elon Musk


Many of my readers come from the age of basic common sense where those unseen guardrails on human interactions with one another are now just second nature. That does mean we are old but just seasoned with layers of respect for how the transactions of society take place. We, in many ways, resemble the charming patina that occurs on copper statues.

The majority of us would not cut in line at the grocery store any more than we would rashly make an unfounded charge, and as my folks might have said, then ‘run it up the flag pole’. Most folks would not distort election returns or argue that space lasers caused forest fires.

As a boy, the party line was (at times) the way local events became known in our rural Wisconsin home. My mom frowned on finding me listening quietly to conversations from others connected, but would then concede to ask what was the news. I never once thought that anything heard in those listening sessions was not true.

Nor do I ever recall a tirade or bombastic blowout.

The means of communication these days is a far cry from placing one hand over the mouthpiece and listening for information on the metal phone hung on the dining room wall. With today’s social media, communication has far less to do with listening, and far more to do with poking and riling others.

The discussions over the past days about Elon Musk, who bought Twitter earlier this week, have created many observers to wonder what that social media landscape will resemble when Musk allows for ‘free speech’ to reign on the platform.

Neil Steinberg a Chicago Sun-Times columnist wrote ” “Free speech” is now the equivalent of being free from the consequences of your malicious, deceptive, and toxic ramblings, the First Amendment a shield to hide behind. It’s like the worst nuisance on the beach buying a private swim club so he can freely kick sand in weaklings’ faces.”

Given what passes for ‘conversations’ in too many cases with social media across the nation it is hard to think Steinberg to be wrong. Reading many of the comments on Twitter about heavy topics of the day makes it painfully clear that not only is the nation needing some lessons on logic, but also about how to navigate in polite society.

I do find it most telling, however, when it comes to those in the nation who talk loudest about ‘free speech’, that what is really desired is the ability to anonymously spread harmful lies, conspiracy theories, and outright bogus slime. Which runs counter to the folks who know this grand freedom of speaking freely comes with the responsibility to speak responsibly.

As they did on the party line of my youth.

And so it goes.

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