You buy a restaurant that, while wildly popular, has a reputation as being a place where things can, from time to time, get out of hand.
Upon agreeing a price, you announce that his restaurant will be a place where, in effect, anything goes. To do otherwise would be an infringement of your human rights. Oh, and the restaurant can hold a capacity of circa 330 million people from across the planet.
The world’s richest man, more commonly known for building luxury electric cars and space rockets, has made free speech his primary pitch as he takes control of the social media giant.
A self-described “free speech absolutist”, he views freedom of expression as the “bedrock of a functioning democracy”.
The news of the idiosyncratic mogul’s takeover has been welcomed in many quarters, including by its founder Jack Dorsey, who welcomed it being taken back into private ownership and called Musk “the singular solution I trust” (I should add that Dorsey is reported to be set to net several hundred million as a result of the sale).
Dorsey stood down as Twitter CEO in November after several years of trying with varying degrees of success to bring the beast he created under control.
The platform has rightly been heavily criticised over how it regulates it users.
Musk himself is among a chorus of people who believe Twitter had failed to live up to its free speech principles and has been critical of its content moderation policies, arguing it has censored some voices.
In doing so Musk has won many friends on the political right, with many conservatives, particularly in the United States, believing they are currently unfairly targeted by social media platforms to the point wherein posts are muffled or suppressed.
Others, myself included, believe that platforms such as Twitter, Facebook et al should be treated with the same standards applied to publishers in that they should be held accountable for the content it allows to appear.
With this being 2022 and the ability to countenance more than one point of view becoming an increasingly rare commodity, there are many who speculate that Musk’s
assuming full control of the company will result in a relaxation of its content moderation rules.
They fear that previously suspended accounts, most infamously that of former US president Donald Trump, will be allowed to return to the site.
Safety campaigners have also raised concern that violent and abusive speech against users will proliferate as a result of the takeover.
Musk has said he wants to make make Twitter more accessible, saying he will make the site’s algorithms open source – meaning the code used to build them would be publicly accessible to allow users to see how certain posts were served to them in their timelines.
He said he wants to do this in the name of trust, and that this model is better than having tweets be “mysteriously promoted or demoted”.
And he has also vowed to crack down on ‘spam bots’, fake accounts used to relentlessly post misleading content to artificially influence discussion on the platform.
As if all of this was not enough he will have to convince a voluble mob of callow social justice warriors that consider freedom of speech to be a secondary concern to exposure to views they take issue with. Indeed many say they intend to quit Twitter as a result of the deal.
This myopic point of view threatens to treat free speech as an almost outdated concept rather than the inalienable universal human right it is.
Can Musk make Twitter a free and open platform while ensuring people’s safety? That remains to be seen. But I take comfort from the views of human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali who called the news “a great day for free speech”.
Ms Hirsi Ali works to liberate women and girls from cultural practices that violate their human rights, motivated in part by her own lived experiences.
Her father was imprisoned due to his opposition to the brutal Siad Barre government in her native Somalia.
As an adult she played a role in the production of a Dutch film critical of the treatment of women in certain Islamic cultures, a film which resulted in the murder of its director and forced her to go into hiding.
Now an American citizen, she knows all to well what happens to a society that suppresses free speech.
Without it people’s identity, values and beliefs are swept away. Hate speech is never acceptable but it should be challenged, not silenced.
History shows that such actions inevitably lead to disaster.
In taking on Twitter, Musk now has to ensure that it does not follow suit and prove that ideas can be debated with respect and dignity.