On the nation's newspaper of record, hyperventilation, and Elon Musk's expensive new bauble
The announcement that Elon Musk is poised to buy Twitter for $44 billion has lit the short fuse on some of the worst habits in American cultural debate. The New York Times is offering opinions under the headlines of "Elon Musk is a Problem Masquerading as a Solution", "Twitter Under Elon Musk Will Be a Scary Place", and "Musk's Twitter: Weed Memes. Editable Tweets. And the Return of Trump." Some have called it hyperventilation, and that may not be a bad characterization.
■ Meanwhile, largely because Musk has a history of libertine personal behavior on the site and is intentionally provoking debate with tweets like "The extreme antibody reaction from those who fear free speech says it all", the pending ownership change has become a cause for celebration among those who perceive that Twitter's policies and management have landed heavily on some of their favorite figures -- the former President certainly chief among them -- despite often inexcusable behavior by those figures.
■ No person of sound mind and decent character should stand opposed to the principle of freedom of speech. But principles often conflict with one another, and one of the most important indicators of good judgment is the ability to reconcile those conflicts thoughtfully. There is no pure freedom of speech, and even the Voltaire-adjacent promise to defend to the death another's right to say things with which one disagrees is itself limited. (It would be insane, for instance, to defend a mob leader's right to use "free speech" to coordinate a murder.)
■ It is especially unfortunate that a false dichotomy of "free speech or not" is taking shape around something as ultimately trivial as a social-media site. Twitter hasn't taken the full form of a public-good protocol, as co-founder Jack Dorsey says he wished. It's just a popular digital meeting space -- a very noisy virtual agora -- where people can engage, agree, disagree, or ignore one another entirely.
■ But if anyone fails to keep their experience of Twitter or any other site at arm's length, no matter who owns that site, then they're bound for disappointment. Turning any means of engaging with other human beings into an opportunity to cultivate an enemies list is neither psychologically healthy nor civically responsible. If it matters so much that it's worth pages and pages of debate in the nation's newspaper of record -- and stokes mutually-condescending takes and division from people overeager to prove they're on the right "team" -- then maybe it matters too much all around.