The hard left is going absolutely crazy over Elon Musk's decision to buy Twitter, because this threatens the left-wing bias of the current social media. But Democracy and free speech require that all views be available in the marketplace of ideas. Pictured: Elon Musk and his son on December 13, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for TIME)
The hard left is going absolutely crazy over Elon Musk's decision to buy Twitter. One of their arguments, made loudly by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, is that no one person should own and control such an important media platform. But that argument, repeated by others, is totally phony and hypocritical. Imagine if George Soros had bought Twitter? Reich would be jumping up and down with joy, as would Musk's other critics. I don't recall the outcry when Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post, the most influential newspaper in our nation's capital. To the contrary, Bezos was applauded for bringing a more liberal perspective to that newspaper.
Many of the most important media in the country have long been owned and controlled by individuals or close-knit families. So don't believe what Reich and others say about why they are opposed to Musk's purchase.
The real reason, of course, is the fear by the hard left of losing their control over social media. Recent polls suggest that the vast majority of social media employees are Democrats who lean left. Hard left zealots applauded when these media denied the American public their free speech rights to hear the views of people with whom the hard left disagrees. Indeed the greatest fear expressed by these pretextual defenders of free speech is that -- God forbid -- Donald Trump would be allowed back on Twitter so that the public might be able to read and evaluate his tweets. I don't like a great many of Trump's views. I wish he hadn't made his speech on January 6th, and I believe the 2020 election was won fair and square by Joe Biden. Yet I don't want some anonymous platonic guardians deciding whether or not I can read tweets of Trump or others with whom I may disagree.
What Robert Reich and his ilk are really afraid of is actual freedom of speech. For understandable reasons, they fear the kind of populism that has spread throughout the world, because it tends to lean right. But Democracy and free speech require that all views be available in the marketplace of ideas. The answer to bad speech is not censorship by social media, but rather open platforms that permit responses. Donald Trump should be answered, not suppressed. But that will not satisfy the hard left. As Derrick Jackson, president of the NAACP, candidly put it:
"Mr. Musk: free speech is wonderful, hate speech is unacceptable. Disinformation, misinformation and hate speech have NO PLACE on Twitter."
He, along with others, have urged Twitter to keep denying their followers their right to read Trump's tweets:
"Mr. Musk: Do not allow 45 to return to the platform. Do not allow Twitter to become a petri dish for hate speech, misinformation or disinformation. Protecting our democracy is of utmost importance.
"Mr. Musk: Lives are at risk, and so is American democracy."
Elon Musk is a private citizen who is not bound by the First Amendment. He can censor if he chooses to, but he can also refuse to censor. He can apply to Twitter what Chief Justice Rehnquist once said about our Constitution: "Under the First Amendment there is no such thing as a false idea." Twitter should accept this as its guiding principle and not reject ideas on the ground that they are "false." This would not mean no censorship at all: even the First Amendment allows censorship of narrow categories of expression, such as, direct incitement to violence, child pornography and malicious defamation. But that is not what the hard left fears. What people like Reich and Jackson are afraid of are ideas they don't like, information that differs from their narrative, and hate speech, as defined by them alone?
The result has been a strong bias in favor of the hard left and against the hard right by many social media. While I often agree with that leftward orientation as a matter of my personal political preferences, I demand the right to read opposing views. As Bertrand Russell once put it: "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts."
The decision by Musk to buy Twitter threatens the left-wing bias of the current social media. I welcome Musk's purchase of Twitter and fervently hope that he runs it in the spirit of our great experiment in liberty, namely the First Amendment.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus at Harvard Law School, and the author most recently of The Case for Color-Blind Equality in an Age of Identity Politics. He is the Jack Roth Charitable Foundation Fellow at Gatestone Institute, and is also the host of "The Dershow," on Rumble.