In an op-ed published Friday in The Washington Post, former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao slammed Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s investment in Twitter and, to put it mildly, his support and vision for free speech. Put simply, she called for Democracy Dying in Darkness.
Last week, Musk purchased a 9.2% stake in Twitter and became the largest shareholder in the platform. He subsequently joined Twitter's board and suggested he would ensure they become more welcoming for free speech.
In the op-ed, Pao wrote that Musk’s decision was "highly disconcerting — a slap in the face, even," adding:
Musk has been open about his preference that Twitter do less to restrict speech that many see as hateful, abusive or dangerous. Given his new influence, the way he himself has used the platform bodes ill for its future. Musk, who has nearly 81 million followers, often punches down in his tweets, displaying very little empathy. He called a British caver who helped to rescue trapped young Thai divers "a pedo guy" (beating a defamation suit over the slur but adding to his reputation as a bully). In February, he tweeted, then deleted, a meme comparing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Adolf Hitler.
She also criticized Musk for being a “free-speech absolutist,” lamenting that, "like many ‘free speech’ advocates, he willfully ignores that private companies are free to establish some limits on their platforms."
Pao feared the changes Musk could bring to Twitter:
Twitter made strides to remove hate and harassment and to give users more control over how they share their opinions… It added features that let users limit who could reply to their tweets, created labels for misleading content and banned President Donald Trump’s account. After all that, bringing Musk onto the board seems like a big step backward. He can bend the company toward his preferences, removing reasonable policies on hateful speech and urging people who are harassed to have thicker skins.
She went even further and suggested that social media platforms need even more “regulation…to prevent rich people from controlling our channels of communication”:
Musk’s appointment to Twitter’s board shows that we need regulation of social-media platforms to prevent rich people from controlling our channels of communication. For starters, we need consistent definitions of harassment and of content that violates personal privacy. Most companies, I suspect, would welcome such regulations… If platforms continue to push for growth at all costs — without such regulations — people will continue to be harmed. The people harmed will disproportionately be those who have been harmed for centuries — women and members of marginalized racial and ethnic groups. The people who benefit from unrestricted amplification of their views will also be the same people who have benefited from that privilege for centuries.