Twitter when all is permitted


Photo of phone with Twitter logo on screen
Photo of phone with Twitter logo on screen
Contributed image

Since Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, his decision to turn the platform into a haven for free speech has been a topic of great controversy. Musk stated that the “new Twitter policy is freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach.” This means that tweets, although they may express unpopular or extreme opinions, will be allowed to exist. However, they will only be shown if they are liked and interacted with by a substantial number of users. 

Following this attempt at rebranding the platform as one for freedom of expression, Twitter revealed that they would be expanding political advertising allowed on the platform, believing it will “facilitate public conversation around important topics.” This new approach solidifies Twitter’s end goal as one to create an equal, free space for the discussion of politics. 

Free speech is rightfully valued in democratic societies, and it makes sense why one would wish for the same freedom of expression through the internet, especially when sites like Twitter have become such dominant forms of social. Jordan Peterson, a figure unbanned by Musk, states in his book 12 Rules for Life that “civilized, open societies abide by a functional social contract, aimed at mutual betterment.” This social contract is very much exhibited within face-to-face social situations, where we directly carry the responsibility for our actions and are “condemned for everything we do.” With the implementation of free speech on Twitter, characterized by as little intervention by Twitter’s moderation team as possible, the question that arises is: does this same social contract exist online?  

In the past, notable figures have been condemned for their actions on Twitter, including Kevin Hart who was fired from hosting the 2018 Oscars for a series of deleted homophobic tweets made in 2011. Such an observation proves that one is held responsible for their actions on digital platforms like Twitter.  

The more troubling cause of Musk’s approach of branding Twitter as a service for free political expression is the existence of anonymous accounts. If someone is tweeting anonymously, they can break that social contract which “aims us at mutual betterment,” without any repercussions, as they are no longer held responsible for their actions. To continue with the same example, Peterson, taking a stance against anonymous accounts, claimed that “anonymity enables the psychopaths and narcissists.” Though Peterson did not cite any research backing these claims, the implications of anonymity on social responsibility are clearly visible.  

With actions that are deemed socially or ethically wrong, rationale is created to  avoid the ostracization of oneself for breaking the “social contract” and to avoid feeling guilt towards one’s actions. In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, it is suggested that “the only real, the only frightening and appeasing punishment, lies in the acknowledgment of one’s own conscience.” 

In the case of Twitter, when someone is no longer held responsible for their actions by hiding behind the mask of anonymity, they no longer feel the need to abide by the “social contract” which permits responsible discussion surrounding political topics – the topic that remains the most prevalent on Twitter. 

By no means am I advocating for a ban on internet anonymity, but to recognize that, when trying to create a space for free discussion, it is difficult to separate extreme and rational behavior when “clear principles of disciple and punishment” seemingly no longer exist.  

When people can interact with each other while disregarding the “social contract” which regulates our behavior,(and holds us responsible for our actions), promoting the mutual betterment of others is permitted which creates a thin line between political discussion and political disinformation. 

Leave a Reply

Serving the Waterloo campus, The Cord seeks to provide students with relevant, up to date stories. We’re always interested in having more volunteer writers, photographers and graphic designers.