Everyone seems to have an opinion on whether an Elon Musk-led Twitter is good for free speech, and much of that debate is happening on Twitter. On the surface, this fact goes a long way to proving the point.
While many people don’t like to engage with critiques of their beliefs, shutting down these alternative voices does not promote free speech. He does the opposite.
So allowing debate to flourish is clearly good for freedom of expression. And Twitter’s continued economic health is a big step forward in protecting Americans’ right to express their thoughts and opinions.
In attempting to save Twitter, Musk is engaged in the process that is rocking America. He’s taking risks with his own money, hoping that Twitter can attract more people than it repels. Even if Twitter eventually disappears, the company will have gained valuable insights into digital communications. Hopefully the process will produce something new and improved.
This scenario is reminiscent of X.com, one of Musk’s early ventures. Musk launched X.com in 1999, becoming one of the first online banking sites. After various mergers, trials, errors and even layoffs, it became the PayPal payment company that millions of people use today.
Interestingly, Musk registered Twitter for a money transfer license with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. There’s no reason to do that unless Twitter offers payment services, and it looks like that’s what Musk is planning to do.
A few weeks ago, he suggested that “in the future, users could send money to others on the platform, withdraw their funds to authenticated bank accounts, and later perhaps being, being offered a high-yield money market account to encourage them to shift their money to Twitter.
Those options are indeed a long way off, and there is no reason to think that such a transformation will be easy. But the approach shows that Musk thinks a lot more than 280 characters. It charts a course that puts Twitter in direct competition with the traditional payments industry and the burgeoning fintech industry.
In early October, Musk hinted at his thoughts when he tweeted, “Buying Twitter is an accelerator to build X, the app for everything.” This tweet has sparked a mini-debate on whether what it does can work, with many saying that a general-purpose app, such as WeChat, widely used by Tencent, won’t catch on in America.
These people argue that WeChat thrived because of China-specific conditions, and they might be right. But what thrills America is that someone like Elon Musk can bet billions of his own money to find out.
And people who support the right to free speech should encourage Musk to succeed. The more open communication platforms are, the easier it is to find and evaluate multiple ideas, and the harder it is for groupthink to take over. It is always up to everyone to discern what they find, but this applies to all ideas and all forms of communication. This is the price of freedom.
Blind faith, on the other hand, is a recipe for disaster. And it’s especially dangerous to listen to someone who insists that only certain beliefs are worth having. It is much easier to manipulate people when they have no other sources of information. It is therefore essential to guard against this type of system, even if it means that someone could read something wrong or injure themselves.
Fortunately, anyone put off by what they see on Twitter can easily remedy the situation by quitting Twitter. They also have a more complicated long-term remedy: launch their own social media platform and convince people that it’s better than Twitter.
That last part – convincing people it’s better – is key. It’s also why, no matter how Musk ultimately transforms Twitter, there’s no question what he’s doing is good for free speech, economic freedom, and democracy.
It is the American movement par excellence, and it is the source of the strength of the American system. Elon Musk is risking his own money to create something new and better.
Musk could lose money and some people could be offended as the process unfolds. Ultimately, however, the process will help Americans decide, as objectively as possible, how they want to communicate and transact.
It’s a victory.
Norbert Michel is the director of the Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives at the Cato Institute. He wrote this for InsideSources.com
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