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An open letter to Elon Musk

Dear Mr. Musk,

You’re probably getting all sorts of unwanted advice from tens or hundreds of thousands of people.  So this might get lost in the shuffle.  But as someone who is absolutely ecstatic about your purchase of Twitter, I hope this makes it to your screen.

I’m writing this, not only as suggestions for you, but as a means of explaining to the panic stricken authoritarians out there why they shouldn’t be afraid.  Yes, some of the people on the left who are horrified at your aim to restore Twitter as a place of open discourse are bothered because it will rob them of their ability to control the public discourse.  But some of them — most of them, I think — are actually being manipulated, and only think they should be bothered because the situation has been maliciously mal-framed.

I had a recent interchange with someone on Facebook:

Letting people say whatever they want to whomever they want with no consequences seems full of ill will.

To which I responded:

It’s called freedom. If you don’t want to hear what someone has to say, you can easily mute them or block them. It’s not like in real life where you’d have to run away.

Her response was this:

Freedom isn’t free. And freedom of speech doesn’t mean a bunch of alt right racist homophobes should be allowed free reign of a communication platform to spread hate and incite others and spread their toxicity. If we use your “logic”, the only people that will use the platform will be alt right haters because they will have removed everyone else….I shouldn’t have to be the one to leave (and I don’t even use Twitter but I know what’s right and what’s not. And if they bring hate, racism, homophobia, and religious intolerance, then I’m not muting or blocking them thereby letting them spew without consequence. If they get to hate, I get to point out how wrong they are. I won’t be silent either.

And this is what I wanted to focus on, and my reply to her is essentially a preamble to my first suggestion to you, Mr. Musk: Don’t let anyone bully you into blocking anyone.

Freedom is free. And you’re wrong. Let’s say we “use my logic”. I see a neo-Nazi. I hit mute, and I just don’t see him any more. For me, he doesn’t even exist. It’s like he’s been kicked off of Twitter, but only for me. And since I’m the one who has a problem with him, that seems legit. But what I did, everyone can do.

What’ll wind up happening is that evil #%*& like that neo-Nazi will wind up on a Twitter where the only people who even see their posts are people who don’t mind them, or people who enjoy fighting with them.

If I don’t even want the guy to see my posts either, I can block him. Those two tools, mute and block, provide me — and everyone else — maximum freedom to have a Twitter environment that’s safe and friendly. And without the need for some centralized authority to make a global determination of what’s acceptable and what’s not. Because there’s always going to be someone who thinks that something you posted is unacceptable.

Now… I know there are people who will see hitting mute on a scumbag as “running away”, and who will be too “proud” (I put it in parentheses, because it’s a particularly stupid kind of “pride”) to do so. Or who will get on their high horses and be like the guy in this famous cartoon. They’re free to be that way, but they shouldn’t get to limit the freedoms of others because they refuse to use the tools that are available to them.

Which brings me to my second suggestion.  There are far too many people who won’t hit mute or block.  So I suggest that you rig it so that if Jack submits a complaint about one of Tom’s posts, Tom will automatically be muted for Jack, who will receive a notification to that effect. That way, Jack can either go on with his life, unthreatened by the fact that Tom is posting crap, or choose proactively to unmute Tom and wallow in his regained victimhood.

Finally, there’s the issue of the threats from the UK and EU.  Obviously, you need to comply with the law in these countries if you want Twitter to continue to be available there (though I highly doubt they’d block you if you didn’t).  It doesn’t seem that it would be difficult to block content they want blocked to UK and EU IP addresses.  That way, the thought police can feel virtuous, and anyone in the UK or EU who wants an uncensored feed can simply use TOR or a VPN.

I offer these suggestions only because I haven’t seen anyone else do so.  Ben Shapiro, for example, has already publicly suggested that you fire almost everyone working at Twitter, which seems like a wise idea to me, but since he already suggested it, there’s no need for me to.  You’ve spoken yourself about making the algorithm open source, which is also a great idea.

And entirely aside from these suggestions, I want to express my deep gratitude for what you’ve done.  I know you didn’t do it for me, but I’m one of the beneficiaries.  A lot of people have principles, but very few of them will commit the sort of resources you have committed to standing behind them.  And in an era of leftist witch hunts, being willing to subject yourself to the vituperation of millions of empty talking heads takes a thick skin as well.

So thanks again, and #KeepGoingElon

About the Author
Lisa Liel lives in Karmiel with her family. She works as a programmer/developer, reads a lot, watches too much TV, does research in Bronze/Iron Age archaeology of the Middle East, and argues a lot on Facebook.
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