America’s war over free speech escalated to new heights last week. It began with Elon Musk’s successful bid to purchase Twitter for roughly $44 billion dollars, and it climaxed with an admission that the Department of Homeland Security has created a “Disinformation Governance Board” to combat misinformation ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. These steps will certainly impact our nation’s political discourse, but it remains unclear how they will impact our nation’s spiritual discourse.
The importance of controlling the national narrative by restricting the means of disseminating information is becoming increasingly evident. For years, lawmakers have pressured social media companies to censor misinformation and “extreme” views. It turns out, these extreme views are often conservative or Christian in nature—something I’ve noted in other articles:
Censorship by Big Tech companies in 2019 included eliminating 93% of traffic to top conservative news outlets, removing the term “Christian” from auto-fill search functions, blocking posts that linked to the pro-life organization Live Action, incorrectly placing Live Action on its porn domain block list before banning it entirely, adjusting algorithms to suppress videos that do not violate any specific policy but whose content the company considers to be “borderline” because it doesn’t match their politics or worldview, and shadow banning—a practice of banning someone who doesn’t know they’ve been banned because they keep posting, but nobody is shown their content.
Despite once considering itself to be the “free speech wing of the free speech party” Twitter has been particularly aggressive in its censorship of unwanted ideas, even going so far as to institute a permanent suspension of a sitting U.S. president’s Twitter account. Twitter also famously suspended the New York Post’s account for publishing a truthful story about Hunter Biden’s laptop just weeks before the 2020 presidential election. According to a Media Research Center survey, one in six Biden voters would have changed their vote if they had known about any one of eight news stories that were suppressed by big tech and mainstream media outlets, including the Hunter Biden scandal.
While not the largest social media platform, Twitter “has had an outsized role in shaping narratives around the world,” according to the New York Times. “Political leaders have made it a megaphone, while companies, celebrities and others have used it to hone images and build brands.” It appears to be for this reason that Elon Musk has targeted Twitter in an effort to restore freedom of speech.
In March, Musk tweeted, “Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy. What should be done?” He then asked, “Is a new platform needed?” Musk’s post “was retweeted over 10,000 times and liked over 62,000 times an hour after being posted.” His 79.1 million followers overwhelmingly encouraged Musk to use his money and influence to address the problem, with some challenging him to buy Twitter.
Shortly thereafter, Elon Musk made an offer to acquire Twitter. When asked why he wanted to purchase the company, Musk answered:
I think it’s very important that it be an inclusive arena for free speech … Twitter has become kind of the de facto town square. It’s really important that people have both the reality and the perception that they’re able to speak freely within the bounds of the law. One of the things I believe Twitter should do is open source the algorithm and make any changes to people’s tweets, or if they’re emphasized or de-emphasized, that action should be made apparent so that anyone can see that that action has been taken. So, there’s no sort of behind-the-scenes manipulation, either algorithmically or manually.”
In other words, his goal would be to transform the company. He said, “Having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important to the future of civilization. I don’t care about the economics at all.” Also, in a letter to the chairman of Twitter’s board, Musk wrote, “I invested in Twitter as I believe in its potential to be the platform for free speech around the globe. I believe free speech is a societal imperative for a functioning democracy.”
There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about another billionaire controlling another one of America’s most influential social media platforms. Nonetheless, it is encouraging to see someone fight to preserve free speech in our 21st century town square. Indeed, radical changes could be seen within days of Musk securing an agreement to purchase the company. “Data compiled by The Verge from social media statistics site Social Blade shows that in the two days since the deal was completed, influential conversative accounts have increased their follower counts at roughly ten times the average daily rate for the month leading up to the acquisition. Meanwhile, popular liberal accounts have suffered, collectively losing hundreds of thousands of followers on April 25th and 26th after a month of gains.”
Moreover, the drama at Twitter is only the latest in a series of conservative efforts to promote free speech. Over the course of the last year, Dave Rubin’s Locals has been acquired by Rumble, former president Donald Trump launched Truth Social, and Mike Lindell has launch Frank Social. Whatever we may think of the personalities behind these platforms, the fact remains that they are engaged in a war that seeks to reclaim lost territory. They are restoring our opportunity to freely exchange ideas, but do we as Christians have anything to say?
In His judgment against Israel, God lamented, “Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter” (Isa. 59:14). Truth and righteousness could not prevail because truth was no longer permitted in the public square. If Elon Musk is correct that social media platforms like Twitter serve as the modern public square, then it is imperative that truth be permitted on these platforms. Without it, we should not expect to see justice and righteousness prevail in America. But being permitted to speak the truth is only the first step. The next step requires that God’s people take advantage of the opportunity.
It remains uncertain whether the ongoing battle over free speech will have any meaningful impact upon the spiritual discourse in our country because it remains unclear whether God’s people are prepared to take advantage of opportunities to speak God’s truth on these platforms. We can be thankful for warriors who are fighting to preserve our freedom to speak and to protect the public square, but their efforts will amount to little if only political views are exchanged. If Christians don’t care enough to point people to the truth by upholding God’s moral standard in the public square, then all of this is for naught. Thus, the question each of us must ask ourselves is, “Will we rise to the occasion and use this reclaimed freedom to apply God’s truth to our politics and culture?”
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21. Rumble. “Rumble Acquires Locals to Help Build a Bigger Creator Economy.” Cision PR Newswire, October 26, 2021, 10:00, ET. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/rumble-acquires-locals-to-help-build-a-bigger-creator-economy-301408700.html.
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