Against the backdrop of X owner Elon Musk visiting the Auschwitz memorial in Poland, and meeting with European leaders, X CEO Linda Yaccarino has taken the opportunity to underline the platform’s ongoing commitment to free speech and facilitating a “global town square” of enriching exchange.
Though her statements continue to be undermined by Musk himself, which highlights the seemingly unworkable balance between what Musk views as “free speech” and what X, and Yaccarino, are communicating.
As per Yaccarino:
“As someone whose career was built around entertainment and news organizations I know the impact information can have on communities and culture. Joining X has been liberating, because it’s a place for everyone to freely be themselves. That freedom and society’s progress requires information independence: the free exchange of ideas, information and knowledge through freedom of speech. To drive humanity forward, society must empower people to express their thoughts, make up their own minds, but also draw the line at hate. This is tough to do, but absolutely crucial.”
No one would argue this, and definitely, supposed suppression of free speech could impinge on our capacity to examine and understand the challenges of the world.
But Yaccarino’s later statements on this mission raise more questions about X’s specific approach:
“Some people believe they have complete information independence. They don’t – information independence is under threat. Heavy content filtering practices of some platforms and media entities have altered people’s understanding of the truth. And we’re seeing things we held as true being openly challenged. Control, censorship, and information centralization holds us back – while greater access to information propels us forward and fuels positive change.”
Presumably, at least one of these “openly challenged” issues Yaccarino refers to is the response to COVID-19, which X has repeatedly sought to highlight as an example of how past Twitter management was being controlled by Government entities in what they could and could not allow in relation to the outbreak.
But they weren’t, and there’s no evidence to suggest that the U.S., or any other government, did anything more than advise Twitter on concerns from their perspective, which the Twitter team, in large part, didn’t action. But Elon and Co. are convinced that this was a vast conspiracy, one of many that they’re now trying to mitigate through a more independent X platform.
“People want (need) unfiltered, accurate, information to make their own decisions. That’s why everything X does is in service of our ultimate goal: the relentless pursuit of the truth. Getting there means providing a platform for all ideas to flourish, where everyone – communities, creators, or businesses – can freely express themselves without censorship. It also means granting equality of access to that information to everyone, for free.”
I mean, X would prefer that you pay, and it gives priority to those that do. But I guess anybody can still read X posts for free, so this is not untrue, though X is continually pushing more users towards paying for the service, so it’ll be interesting to see how that last element holds.
“Our mandate at X is clear: we must protect free speech, safeguard information independence while tackling antisemitism and hate speech. Through our collective technologies and human potential we can create a safer and more inclusive environment for everyone – giving way for information independence to be a force for good. It won’t happen overnight, but we must start now. Let’s make up our own minds – because we can handle the truth. Let’s fight hate with kindness and understanding.”
This is the most contradictory one, based, as noted, on Elon’s own posts.
As an example, Musk is the most followed user in the app, with almost 170 million followers. Musk has also sought to amplify his posts to as many people as possible, so you could strongly argue that he is the most influential X user.
Which means that what he posts, specifically, has an outsized resonance.
In the last year, Musk has repeatedly shared transphobic views, has suggested that workplace diversity initiatives are racist and harmful, has posted racist jokes, suggested that therapy is harmful, amplified anti-Semitic conspiracies, has allowed formerly banned users back in the app, many of whom have shared irresponsible, harmful, and hurtful content, has provided a platform for straight-up lies, has singled out former staff and public identities for attack, and all of this, according to Musk, comes under his definitions of “free speech”.
Far from fighting hate “with kindness and understanding”, Musk has actively amplified hateful content and theories, which has had significant impacts on various communities and individuals.
So while Yaccarino is preaching a more idealistic vision of X’s grand mission, it’s her own boss who’s arguably most responsible for countering such, with Elon’s view being that he should be allowed to share whatever he wants, as that will then trigger broader debate.
But as someone with such huge influence, Musk also needs to recognize the impact of his actions, and how his statements are adopted, and even enacted by his many fans.
On several fronts, Musk seems to be overemphasizing personal gripes, but his stances are so black and white, so good and bad, that there’s no room for nuance or debate. Musk simply makes divisive, hateful remarks, then waves off any related concerns as the “mainstream media” trying to tear him down.
But these are things that he has said, and most of them are still posted on X for all to see. No one’s made Musk make these statements, the same as he’s not under any obligation to provide a platform for controversial figures like Andrew Tate, Jordan Petersen, and Alex Jones.
Jones is actually the worst example in this respect, because even Elon thought that Jones had crossed a line in his Sandy Hook conspiracy rantings. But then, Elon changed his mind. So even though he’d acknowledged that there’s a certain point at which X should not be available to amplify certain content, even that, it seems, is flexible, if it suits whatever he feels at any given time.
So while Yaccarino is saying the right things, and looking to present a moral, measured stance on what she views X to be, it’s her boss who’s the biggest impediment to such, and who’s undermining this vision at every turn.
Which is why statements like this:
“Last year we removed millions of pieces of content and suspended just as many accounts that violated our Terms of Service, including Violent speech and Hateful conduct policy. Plus we’ve opened more lines of communication with groups dedicated to the safety of communities both in physical and virtual spaces. And we’ll keep going –this is not a check-the-box exercise for any of us – combating hate is a lifetime dedication.”
Are almost meaningless, given that the most prominent user in the app is the source of many of these very violations.
Musk’s posts normalize what’s then deemed to be acceptable behavior in the app, and while he’s amplifying this content, no one’s buying X’s broader statements on its commitment to combating the same.
It’s clearly not, and it’s clear that X’s view on what qualifies under these regulations is different to what the broader community expects. Otherwise, Elon would be changing his approach, which he’s repeatedly committed to not doing.
As such, Yaccarino’s statements feel like lip service, saying the right things to convince people to spend more money in the app.
But I doubt many are buying it.