Free Speech vs Ownership: What are the implications of Elon Musk’s Twitter bid?

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Unless you’ve decided to take a digital detox or swerved the news over the past few weeks, you’ll know about Elon Musk’s recent multi-billion dollar bid for Twitter.

Let’s be real. Musk is an entrepreneur. He is in the business of making money. But what makes his decision intriguing is the fact that his decision, in this case, doesn’t appear to be money motivated. By his own admission, he’s driven by what appears to be a cultural crusade to make the platform a space for what he terms to be ‘free speech’.

In his own words: “I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means.”

As marketers and comms professionals, one of the first questions we’re usually asked when social media hits the headlines is: “what does this mean for the platform and for brands?”. But, in today’s landscape, the lines between technology, brands and culture are blurred. As a marketer, the first port of call is often to start by exploring people, public mood, and behaviours — the underlying drivers. The more meaningful question to consider is “what could this mean for society and culture?”

On the surface, the term “free speech” is a noble one. Many voices have and continue to be supressed. And, in the era of feed algorithms, it’s also critical to acknowledge multiple viewpoints and diminish echo chambers. But in a healthy society, autonomy and free speech also needs to be coupled with responsibility, objectivity, and accuracy.

Over the past three decades, the internet and social media has exploded in a way many of us could never have imagined. Our relationship with the medium is becoming increasingly immersive and, in equal measure, difficult to police. Fake news, mental health and privacy have dominated the headlines. With mainstream adoption of the metaverse looming, these topics will only become more critical as the lines between the virtual and real-world blur.

In such times, we need to acknowledge the responsibility that comes with our voices, especially when amplified. As a wider society, we also need to ensure that brands, platforms, and individuals with influence are subject to fact-checking, safety protocols and independent review. And we need to be mindful of our brands’ reputation — not only what they say, engage with and how they appear, but also the ethos and reputation of the very platforms that they use to amplify their voices.

In the words of Jim Morrison “Whoever controls the media, controls the mind.”

Can individual ownership, equality and free speech truly sit hand in hand? How we police and approach these questions will be critical not only to the health of the platforms, but more importantly the health of our society.

  • Jonny Erazo,
    Senior Account Director