After a traumatic incident in Los Angeles involving a stalker and his young son, Elon Musk has banned a popular Twitter account tracking the movement of his private jet and now instituted a broad policy against doxxing in a move that flies in the face of his unbridled commitment to free speech just days earlier.
Elon Musk Bans @ElonJet, Promises Legal Action Against 19-Year-Old Jack Sweeney
Generally speaking, I am a big fan of Elon Musk and view him as the sort of once-in-a-generation innovator that is more a force for good than for bad in the world. When Musk purchased Twitter, I expressed a degree of optimism that we would see some positive changes.
> Read More: Concerning Elon Musk And The Future Of Twitter
But six weeks later, I am quite disappointed to see the direction Musk has taken the company and the sort of frenzied, ad hoc decisions Musk seems to be making without much thought.
Take the @ElonJet account of Jack Sweeney, an account that followed the movement of Musk’s private jet. Musk tried to buy this kid off (it did not work…Musk broke off communication when did not like the counter-offer) and when he took over Twitter, he promised this account would not be banned as part of his commitment to free speech:
My commitment to free speech extends even to not banning the account following my plane, even though that is a direct personal safety risk
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 7, 2022
But as of yesterday, the account is banned. Musk went on an (understandable) tirade after a car carrying his son in Los Angeles was blocked by a stalker of some kind purportedly looking for Musk. As a result of that harrowing incident, Musk has now banned the sharing of:
Live location information, including information shared on Twitter directly or links to 3rd-party URL(s) of travel routes, actual physical location, or other identifying information that would reveal a person’s location, regardless if this information is publicly available;
He has further explained:
Last night, car carrying lil X in LA was followed by crazy stalker (thinking it was me), who later blocked car from moving & climbed onto hood.
Legal action is being taken against Sweeney & organizations who supported harm to my family.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 15, 2022
Of course, this is Musk’s prerogative, but I’m sure I am not the only one who finds it ironic that Musk “doxxed” (publishing private or identifying information about a particular individual on the internet, typically with malicious intent) the stalker who followed his car:
Anyone recognize this person or car? pic.twitter.com/2U0Eyx7iwl
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 15, 2022
Musk And The Limits Of Free Speech
I do not think anyone begrudges Musk for his outrage over the person stalking his car and potentially putting the life of his son in jeopardy. In terms of placing limits on free speech, I’d love to see a massive crackdown on paparazzi, whose actions step over the bounds of speech to constitute harassment (both physical and verbal).
The problem here is that Musk promised one thing and now changed his mind…as we’ve seen over and over again during his tumultuous tenure running Twitter. It is less so policies than the lack of stability (for example, firing workers, then begging them to return) that is undermining Twitter. Musk is a sharp man…can he not see this?
All of this exposes the limits of free speech in a society in which the meaning of that phrase both constitutionally and practically is laced with many shades of nuance.
Take the comment policy on Live and Let’s Fly. While we are far more permissive than most other larger independent travel blogs, there are limits. While we have chosen to let people make fools of themselves in hopes of supporting a robust discussion, any threats, profanity, or what I deem blasphemy is not permitted. And in some cases, that comes down to an “I’ll know it when I see it” form of judgment.
But even giving Musk the benefit of the doubt, I disdain reactionary policy of all stripes and cannot help but to shake my head at the hypocrisy that has characterized his brief time at Twitter. And that has consequences–his handling of Twitter makes me less likely to buy another Tesla. Every morning I now wake up with spam DMs…that’s not why I pay him $8/month for Twitter Blue.
There is no such thing as pure free speech – I liken it to the tragedy of commons. Too much of a good thing is twisted and perverted by those who lack the sort of reciprocity of respect and circumspection necessary for that freedom to flourish.
I cannot say I am surprised that Musk has banned @ElonJet, but I am quite disappointed. This whole brouhaha nicely demonstrates the complexities of speech and will hopefully spur Musk to be more thoughtful as he reckons with the complexities of running a social media company.