“I invested in Twitter as I believe in its potential to be the platform for free speech around the globe, and I believe free speech is a societal imperative for a functioning democracy.”
The most important problem we can solve right now is not climate or gas prices or space travel. It’s ensuring that America remains the land of free speech. If we can’t figure out how to do that, we’re going to wish we could go to Mars and start all over again.
Elon understands the importance of free speech even as he works on those other problems. He’s offering to buy Twitter for ~$41 billion to help it reach its potential as the platform for free speech around the globe.
We should hope he succeeds. If given the opportunity, I will vote my shares of TWTR in favor of an acquisition by Elon.
A Short Defense of Free Speech
The fact that free speech needs a defense demonstrates the growing influence of authoritarian thought. John Stuart Mill built the ultimate framework for the necessity of free speech in On Liberty more than 100 years ago.
In that book, Mill established that there are only three kinds of ideas:
1. Ideas that are completely wrong
2. Ideas that are partially right
3. Ideas that are completely right
Wrong ideas must be exposed through challenges that come from free speech. If we can’t freely challenge that which is wrong, we can never find truth in darkness. The same holds true for partially right ideas. Partially right ideas are also partially wrong and must be challenged through free exploration to get closer to truth. Even completely right ideas, as rare as they are, must always be exposed to challenges in case they may not be right. As Richard Feynman taught young physicists long ago, we can never be sure we are right, we can only be sure that we are wrong.
To believe in restrictions to speech is to believe that some central authority can accurately determine what is right or wrong. If you’ve been paying attention, big tech doesn’t have the best track record on this matter. And that’s the point.
Free speech is the only way to discover truth.
Thus, your opinion about free speech is determined by whether you want truth or you don’t. If you want truth, you must demand freedom of speech, and you must accept truth even when it isn’t what you want it to be. If you don’t want truth, then you better hope your overlords have your biased interests in mind. Otherwise, you’re bound to be disappointed, and you won’t have the recourse of free speech when the overlords side against you.
But What About…?
The opposition to free Twitter seems to gravitate toward several common narratives:
It’s unacceptable that a tech billionaire would have the power to control what people can and can’t say.
Answer: What do you think we have now? Google, Facebook, and Snap are controlled by tech billionaires through uneven voting structures. TikTok is subject to Chinese government controls. The Washington Post is owned by a tech billionaire. The NY Times is controlled by a billionaire family oligarchy.
We need tech billionaires that do believe in the absolute necessity of free speech. Elon is apparently the only one willing to stand up for that despite the discomfort of attacks from the belligerent anti-free-speech brigade.
Users don’t want hate speech, bullying, etc.
Answer: Neither do defenders of free speech, but the definition of “hate” speech is messy and subjective. There are, of course, obvious examples of hateful speech that we can all imagine, but hate is a powerful condemnation. Opponents of free speech know that the classification of “hate” can be a tool to censor things that should be open to discussion. That is the authoritarian control we must avoid if we want to search for truth.
One answer to the problem of hate is to give users tools to eliminate common categories of hate speech and other undesirable speech from their feeds. No one should have to listen to what others say just because they are allowed to say it.
It’s about right-wing speech, not free speech.
Answer: The party of free speech is always the party that feels its right to speech most threatened. The right is the championing party of free speech today because they feel their beliefs are most at odds with current Big Tech speech policies.
But it’s not about right or left, it’s about truth. Either you want truth and therefore must want free speech, or you don’t. If you only care about partisanship, then there’s nothing else I can say that could move you past the idea that this is just about right vs left.
When new CEO Parag Agrawal took over last year, we owned some TWTR stock in one of our funds*, and I wrote about what he should do as the new CEO. The first and most prominent suggestion was to defend free speech on the platform:
“Twitter is where the most intelligent people have the most important conversations amidst the noise of trolls, partisans, and fools.
John Stuart Mill wrote, “The public is a few wise and many foolish individuals.” That seems particularly relevant today. So much attention is paid to the fools, but little is given to the intelligent truth seeking that happens on Twitter. It is that intelligence that makes Twitter special and allows the company to create unique value for the world.
The thought may make some shudder, but Twitter is in many ways the last bastion of truth discovery. Traditional media certainly isn’t. Important conversations in pursuit of truth happen on Twitter more than any other social network in the world, more than any other place in the world.”
The public is a few wise and many foolish individuals, and the few wise people are those who search for truth, not partisan comfort. Human progress depends on truth seekers, not fools. The thing about fools is that they don’t want truth. Fools want the comfort of believing what they want to believe. Unfortunately, our speech platforms find it more necessary to try to defend certain fools from other certain fools rather than allow truth seekers to explore ideas, even uncomfortable ones.
This Substack was started on the principle that only contrarian ideas yield extraordinary results. The most contrarian thing Twitter could do in a world of Big Tech censorship is to the opposite. It’s uncomfortable. It’s scary. Enemies are circling at the very idea Elon might buy Twitter and open it up to free speech.
The simple fact is this: A freer Twitter is a better Twitter and a better business. Why? All social media businesses are about attention. The way to get attention is to allow conversations that aren’t happening anywhere else. Twitter can do that, and Elon knows it.
If you own shares of TWTR, I hope you agree and vote accordingly.
* We have since sold the stock in our fund, but I personally own stock in Twitter.