Time writer knocks free speech as an ‘obsession of the mostly white, male members of the tech elite’ like Musk

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In a Friday piece for Time magazine, the outlet’s national correspondent Charlotte Alter dismissed Elon Musk’s quest for free speech on Twitter as a white male “obsession,” and merely an entrepreneurial way to acquire influence and power in the world.

She also claimed that Musk’s idea of free speech is about the right to spread “disinformation” and has nothing to do with the Founding Fathers’ original intent.

Alter began her piece by insinuating that Musk should have put his $44 billion into something more worthwhile than what he sees as “free speech,” a phrase she put in scare quotes throughout the piece.

She wrote, “They say that something is worth what someone will pay for it. If that’s true, then protecting ‘free speech,’ which Elon Musk has cited as a central reason he agreed to buy Twitter for $44 billion this week, may be worth twice as much as solving America’s homelessness problem, and seven times as much as solving world hunger.”

Time Magazine recognized 8 leaders from science in its list of 100 most influential people, including SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

Time Magazine recognized 8 leaders from science in its list of 100 most influential people, including SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
(Mark Seliger for TIME)

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She added, “It’s worth more (to him, at least) than educating every child in nearly 50 countries, more than the GDP of Serbia, Jordan, or Paraguay.”

The author then proceeded to wonder why a rich techie like Musk would even care about freedom of speech and how it “had become paramount concern of the techno-moral universe.”

She asked, “Why does Musk care so much about this? Why would a guy who has pushed the boundaries of electric-vehicle manufacturing and plumbed the limits of commercial space flight care about who can say what on Twitter?”

She then cited professor of communication at Stanford University Fred Turner for the answer, who agreed, “It does seem to be a dominant obsession with the most elite.” He stated, “[F]ree speech seems to be much more of an obsession among men,” and part of “the entrepreneurial push: I did it in business, I did it in space, and now I’m going to do it in the world.

FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2019, file photo a screen shows the price of Twitter stock at the New York Stock Exchange. Twitter said Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020,  that starting next week it will label or remove misleading claims that try to undermine public confidence in elections. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

FILE – In this Sept. 18, 2019, file photo a screen shows the price of Twitter stock at the New York Stock Exchange. Twitter said Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020,  that starting next week it will label or remove misleading claims that try to undermine public confidence in elections. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

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Alter then claimed that “‘free speech’ in the 21st century means something very different than it did in the 18th, when the Founders enshrined it in the Constitution.”

She elaborated, “The right to say what you want without being imprisoned is not the same as the right to broadcast disinformation to millions of people on a corporate platform. This nuance seems to be lost on some techno-wizards who see any restriction as the enemy of innovation.”

The author theorized this was part of a quest to break boundaries, “In a culture that places a premium on achieving the impossible, some tech titans may also see the liberal consensus on acceptable speech as yet another boundary to break.”

She cited Peter Hamby, a writer at Puck News, who said, “Contrarianism is a big part of this free speech thing. If the left says, ‘I can’t do XYZ,’ that makes a lot of people want to do it more… [contrarianism] becomes this ideology in itself” 

In this photo illustration, the Twitter logo is displayed on a smartphone with Elon Musk's official Twitter profile. (Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

In this photo illustration, the Twitter logo is displayed on a smartphone with Elon Musk’s official Twitter profile. (Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Alter brought in Jason Goldman, who was on the founding team of Twitter before joining the Obama administration, and said, “[F]ree speech has become an obsession of the mostly white, male members of the tech elite” who “would rather go back to the way things were” – “before a rapidly diversifying workforce changed the culture at many of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley.”

Goldman believes taking a less heavy-handed approach in content moderation “is an inherently anti-speech position, because you’re going to drive out a set of users who would use your product but no longer feel safe.”

Alter claimed that Musk sees free speech differently because he’s part of engineer culture: “Tech titans often have a different understanding of speech than the rest of the world because most trained as engineers, not as writers or readers, and a lack of a humanities education might make them less attuned to the social and political nuances of speech.”

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