During the early morning hours of April 25th, there were news stories breaking that Elon Musk and his team had been working over the weekend to finalize his purchase of Twitter. Within just a few hours, we learned that the deal had gone through, and the social media platform has been in an uproar ever since. But what does this mean for small business owners?
Twitter is one of the largest social media platforms where we share news and information, and have discussions as well. While the main focus of debate has been political, which is definitely important, we know you have a business to run as well. Digital marketing is the best way to get the word out about your product or service, so Elon’s vision for Twitter may directly affect how you’re able to use the platform.
The primary topic surrounding Elon Musk buying Twitter is based on free speech. So, we're taking a look at some of the reactions from major voices on Twitter, what free speech experts have to say, and what you can expect when it comes to digital marketing on the platform in the future.
From the moment the news was announced, there were a ton of reactions, but many of us were waiting to see what Twitter founder, Jack Dorsey, had to say about the deal. Finally, almost 12 hours after the news broke, Jack released a Twitter thread that started with a link to "Everything In Its Right Place" by Radiohead. He then went on to say the following:
For some, Jack’s response was surprising, and for others, it was expected. Jack Dorsey has had many regrets about some of the decisions he's made with the platform. In recent years, he’s been an advocate for blockchain technology because he truly believes in decentralization, and that may be why he didn’t want Wall Street to be in control of Twitter. Although he had concerns about Wall Street billionaires controlling the platform, some were surprised that he supports a single billionaire, Elon Musk, taking over.
Evan Greer, the director of Fight for the Future, also had quite a bit to say about the news. Fight for the Future’s mission states, “We fight to ensure that technology is a force for empowerment, free expression, and liberation rather than tyranny, corruption, and structural inequality.” Here’s what Evan’s first set of tweets had to say in response to the news:
Sometimes, we forget that social media is used around the globe. While yes, it’s had a massive effect here in the United States, Evan Greer and Fight for the Future is more concerned with the worldwide implications. They believe that a single owner like Elon Musk isn’t what anyone should be worried about, and the focus should be on policy changes involving regulations from various nations.
While Evan and Jack don’t seem too worried, there are many who have concerns with Elon Musk’s absolutist views on free speech. One primary concern is that Donald Trump’s account will be reinstated on Twitter. In a piece for The Guardian, Arwa Mahdawi said, “The former president’s new social network, Truth Social, has been a complete disaster and his relevance has plummeted since being kicked off Twitter. If Trump has any hope of making a political comeback, then Musk is his best bet.”
Trump’s permanent suspension came after he was accused of inciting the events of January 6th. So, the worry is that he’ll be able to do something like this again. According to the Washington Post and many other news outlets, Trump has gone on the record to say he has no plans to rejoin the platform. But only time will tell.
Finally, there’s the concern about online anonymity. In a recent interview, Elon Musk said, “I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spambots, and authenticating all humans.”
When Cecilia Kang of the New York Times and bestselling co-author of An Ugly Truth shared this, many retweeted with their concerns. Their worry is that this change may actually hinder freedom of speech. But what do the experts have to say?
The Experts on Freedom of Speech
As a business owner, you may believe that freedom of speech doesn’t concern you or your marketing efforts. But as you learn more from the experts and what they’ve written about, you may find that this is an extremely complex topic that affects business owners regularly.
We’re not here to tell you what you should or shouldn’t think about freedom of speech but to properly market your product or service, it’s something that must be taken into consideration. The three main debates around free speech involve misinformation, hate speech, and anonymity. So, let’s see what some of the experts want us to take into consideration.
How Do We Define Truth?
The topics of truth and misinformation have been discussed extensively with the rise of social media. From COVID to claims of election fraud, there’s no doubt you’ve heard people claim what is or isn’t true. But how do we define truth?
Jonathan Rauch is a senior fellow in Governance Studies at Brookings as well as a journalist who believes truth should be a top priority for all of us. In 2021, he released his book The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth, which really dissects the topic of truth. Rauch believes that truth and knowledge aren’t anything that one person has, and it’s dangerous to think that one person or source should or can be who decides what truth is.
He references the ancient philosopher Socrates and his idea of the philosopher king. Socrates believed that the best way to have a just state is to have it ruled by philosophers because they are the wisest. But Rauch makes us ask if it’s possible for a philosopher king to be wrong. If so, then how could one person decide what is or isn’t true?
Rauch argues that knowledge and truth come from a collective. He believes that ideas need to be debated and challenged in order for us to define truth. While Rauch acknowledges that freedom of speech leaves room for misinformation, he believes that this is much better than letting one person decide what truth is.
How it affects digital marketing:
Let’s say you’re doing some content marketing for your product, and you decide that you want to do some research around your specific niche. So, you conduct a survey 1,000 people and release your findings on your blog. Then, you market your content via social media.
Well, what if someone else conducted a similar survey and came up with completely different results? Then, they accuse you of spreading misinformation.
Or, what if your company's Twitter account shared information that later turned out to be wrong? Does that count as misinformation?
While we all want the most accurate information shared on Twitter, as you can see, it can get a little tricky.
If Elon Musk does create an environment of free speech absolutism, you may not have to worry about the above scenarios. But, what happens if someone spreads misinformation about your company? Under Musk’s leadership, there’s no telling if you’d be able to get it taken down.
The Difficult Topic of Hate Speech
Something that all of us can agree on is that there’s no room for hate speech in this world. We don’t think that anyone would see that as a political stance. But, when it comes to the future of Twitter, this is something people are worried about when loosening the free speech policies on the platform.
Nadine Strossen is an American civil liberties activist, and she was actually the president of the ACLU for nearly two decades. In 2018, she wrote a book titled HATE: Why We Should Resist it With Free Speech, Not Censorship, which argues that hate speech should not be censored. By the title, you may think that she’s OK with hate speech, but she abhores it. But Strossen isn’t having us ask if hate speech is or isn’t a good thing, she wants us to ask if censorship is effective. In her book, she argues that the best way to fight hate speech is with counterspeech.
Another book that tackles free speech and hate speech is The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff. In this best-selling book, Lukianoff and Haidt argue that our culture is shifting towards “safetyism”. Their concern is that not only are our kids less resilient, but the idea of hate speech has become far too broad and vague. They argue that anything seen as offensive is now being called hate speech, which makes has led to many people losing jobs and having their reputations destroyed.
How it affects digital marketing:
We don’t think that you’ll have to worry too much about hate speech, but as Haidt and Lukianoff argue, the subjectivity of what’s offensive can definitely effect your business. Regardless of your intentions with your marketing strategy, could your account get banned for something offensive?
It seems like every few months, there is a new company being boycotted because of an offensive advertisement. Brands have had to release public apologies and do massive PR campaigns after ads were deemed racist, sexist, fatphobic, and more. While, there’s something to be said about implicit biases that may have influenced the marketing campaign, it’s something you have to take into consideration.
Intentional or not, what happens if your social media marketing campaign offends a certain group of people and there are no free speech protections? Should your businesses Twitter account get banned if this was simply a mistake?
On the other hand, without hate speech restrictions, what happens if you become the victim of targeted harassment? If anything goes when it comes to free speech, can people openly harass your business and employees with no repercussions?
Battling for Anonymity
Finally, we reach the topic of anonymity. Whether we’re talking about misinformation or hate speech, should people be able to do this anonymously? Well, Elon Musk also stated that he wants to “authenticate all humans”, which people view as him saying that your identity must be linked to your social media accounts like on Facebook. Although Elon Musk seems like his main concern is bots, people worry that losing anonymity could lead to negative consequences.
Jeff Kosseff is a professor of Cybersecurity Law and recently published a book titled The United States of Anonymous: How the First Amendment Shaped Online Speech. When we think of the first amendment, we think of free speech and what people are allowed to say. Well, in his book, Kosseff explains the history of the first amendment and how anonymity played a major role in shaping it. Although anonymity isn’t explicitly covered in the first amendment, he teaches the reader about what the founders of the United States were experiencing as they wrote the constitution.
On the surface, the first amendment is there to protect citizens’ speech from the government. But as you learn in this book, many who criticized the government chose to do so anonymously. Their fear was the government would retaliate, but they also worried how it would affect them with fellow citizens. For example, if a business owner criticized the government anonymously but their name was then released, they may lose business from those who support the government. Or worse, the government may punish the business as well, which then affects the employees as well as the families of the owner and employees due to a loss of income.
How it affects digital marketing:
Unlike the previous potential changes under Musk’s leadership, the results of this change may only affect your businesses reputation. There aren’t many reasons for you, as a business, to want to be anonymous. Digital marketing and brand recognition is all about getting your name out there, so it’s not really advantageous to be anonymous.
But, as you’ve learned, we also need to think about the public and the consumers.
Let’s say a customer was angry because they didn’t like your policies, or perhaps they were upset about something completely out of your control. With no free speech limitations, they could say whatever they wanted to about your business. Hypothetically, they could leave comments on all of your social media accounts that are misinformation.
Should they be able to do this anonymously? Jeff Kosseff argues that they should be able to. As a business owner, you may disagree and think they should be able to be identified so you can take action if what their saying is libel.
You also need to consider what you do in your free time. Do you have the right to anonymity on personal accounts? What if you say something that gets you into trouble, but you no longer have the anonymity? Now, what you do outside of your business may directly effect your business.
What Does the Future Hold?
Now you’re aware of the debates happening around Elon Musk’s views on free speech and anonymity, and you also learned what the experts have to say. And since we got your back, you also have some things to consider when it comes to how you market your business.
As you’ve seen, this is an extremely complex and nuanced topic. We wanted to give you a full scope of what these changes might mean. If we succeeded, we showed you how Elon’s changes can work in your favor, but they could also harm your business. It’s a balancing act, but at the end of the day, you can’t succeed in this day and age without digital marketing effort.
Although we gave you a lot to think about, our goal at DirectLync is to make your life just a little bit easier. With all of these other things to think about as well as the time you spend running your business, we want to ensure digital marketing is the least of your worries. DirectLync provides an all-in-one platform for content marketing, social media marketing, email marketing, and more. You can click here to sign up for a free trial or feel free to contact us today if you have any questions.