This past week was the best of times, and worst of times, for two of the most influential social media companies.

Elon Musk completed a deal to purchase Twitter. Musk has been very vocal about the need for the leading political and social communication media platform to respect freedom of speech.

On Thursday 27 October he tweeted “the bird is free”:

Reports soon began flying concerning executives that Elon had already placed on the chopping block. Musk has previously said that he might cut as much as 75 percent of Twitter’s workforce.

Among those who were either let go or departing of their own accord, according to Bloomberg: Vijaya Gadde, former head of legal, policy and trust, who made the decision to “permanently” suspend Donald Trump from Twitter, and former CEO Parag Agrawal. 

Jack Posobiec of Human Events reported in a podcast that Musk plans to reinstate all accounts that were permanently banned on the platform.

At around the same time, Meta, parent company of Facebook, was getting hammered with a series of bad news.

Misses on the latest quarterly earnings estimates, partly due to write-downs on losses from the company’s metaverse technology investments, sent company stock plummeting.

Meta’s shares fell 25 percent on Thursday, following news that the company had spent 4 billion dollars in the third quarter on building its metaverse, Business Insider reported.

Its stock is down more than 70 percent so far this year, or a whopping 676 billion dollars in devaluation, according to Yahoo Finance, dropping it out of the top twenty in total worth.

Mark Zuckerberg has lost nearly 68 percent of his personal wealth.

There was other bad news.

In what some said might be the highest campaign finance penalty in American history, a Washington state judge on Wednesday fined Meta almost $25 million for repeatedly and willfully breaking the law requiring campaign contribution disclosure.

As reported by The Associated Press, King County Superior Court Judge Douglass North imposed the maximum penalty.

The court had been considering what penalty to impose for more than 800 infractions of Washington’s Fair Campaign Practices Act. 

Washington’s transparency law requires ad vendors to keep track of and make public the names and addresses of people who purchase political advertisements, as well as the target audience, method of payment, and total number of views for each ad.

In 2018, following a similar lawsuit, Facebook agreed to pay $238,000, the AP noted. The company later said it would stop selling political ads in the state rather than meet the requirements of the state law.

But it did not stop selling ads, and a new suit was filed in 2020.

In deciding to impose the maximum penalty, Judge North cited the prior 2018 lawsuit.

Uber Freedom vs Uber Control

It will be interesting to see how the two companies fare in the next 12 to 24 months, considering the starkly different paradigms now being set into motion by their heads.

For Twitter, Musk appears to be taking it on himself to return Twitter to its free speech roots.

MSM reacted with doomsday angst, trying to cast free speech as a monstrous danger that would fuel “hate speech” and “misinformation”.

Sample headlines:

  • “Why Elon Musk’s Idea of ‘Free Speech’ Will Help Ruin America” The New Republic
  • “Op-Ed: How Elon Musk’s plans for Twitter could threaten free speech” The Los Angeles Times
  • “Will Elon Musk’s Twitter become a beacon of free speech or a soap box for hate speech?” EuroNews
  • “Musk is in control of Twitter; questions remain on what he’ll do with it” Associated Press

Censorship surrounding the Russia-Ukraine conflict dating from March 2022 appeared to be a catalyst for Musk making a play to acquire Twitter.

The Washington Examiner reported that Musk was concerned that the European Union passed a law banning Russian news sources from social platforms.

An email exchange with investor Antonio Gracias about the ban underscored that Musk favored allowing sources of news with which he might not agree.

“We should allow it precisely bc we hate it. That is the ping of the American constitution.” Gracias texted in one exchange, according to the Examiner

Musk agreed, responding to Gracias that “free speech matters most when it’s someone you hate spouting what you think is bullshit.”

More generally, Musk has repeatedly expressed strong support for the necessity of free speech to a healthy society.

Those views are in line with American traditions, history, and indeed recognized as fundamental human rights by the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, the highest and foundational law of the nation.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, on the other hand, seems locked into a strategy of trying to build a kind of metaverse technology that affords his company complete control of an ecosystem. Sort of like the way Apple exerts control over the Apple universe of products and services via proprietary software, hardware and a tightly controlled app store.

Investment bank Itaú BBA earlier this month issued a report regarding Meta that critiqued its strategy.

Analysts wrote that Meta was attempting to control three important variables via its metaverse vision: behavioral, transactional, and inventory. 

The company is seeking to control how people act in the metaverse (ie. what they can and can’t say and do), how they conduct commerce with others, and indeed, the entire composition and experience of the metaverse itself.

Are the Largest Tech Communication Platforms Really Private, or Agents and Collaborators with the Federal Government?

The view that social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are “private companies” with the right to adopt limits on speech has become a tenuous assertion, given censorship collusion between federal government officials and those companies.

Indeed, a suit brought by multiple state Attorney Generals, Missouri vs. Biden, has specifically charged that the Federal government repeatedly coordinated with tech companies to censor speech on social media platforms, in violation of First Amendment protections.

The Trends Journal has been following that case closely (See “FIRST AMENDMENT SHOWDOWN: MISSOURI VS BIDEN” 13 Oct 2022 and “MISSOURI V BIDEN: FAUCI MUST TESTIFY IN DEPOSITION” 25 Oct 2022).

Most objective people agree that the leading and de facto monopoly social media platforms do not afford First Amendment rights on their communications platforms, though many of them were marketed to consumers explicitly as free speech platforms.

Writing in a May 2022 Atlantic opinion piece, Jeffrey Rosen noted:

“[At] the moment, Twitter, like Facebook and Google, has chosen to adopt content rules stricter than First Amendment standards. Facebook, for example, prohibits ‘hate speech’ or ‘attacks,’ which it defines as ‘violent or dehumanizing speech, harmful stereotypes, statements of inferiority, expressions of contempt, disgust or dismissal, cursing and calls for exclusion or segregation.’ By contrast, the First Amendment generally protects hate speech unless it is intended, and likely, to cause imminent injury.”

But the censorship, accelerating especially after Donald Trump’s electoral victory in 2016, has gone far beyond speech that involves “hate” or “violent and dehumanizing speech.”

Many have argued that censorship and takedowns have politically targeted conservatives, while leaving similar speech by left-of-center commentators untouched.

MSM media articles on the issue have largely been devoted to pretending there’s no evidence to support that contention. But no one disputes that in the aftermath of the January 6, 2021 Washington protests, literally thousands of accounts were banned, including some of the most prominent figures in politics associated with then president Donald Trump.

More generally, websites like record incidents of prominent conservative voices that have experienced social media censorship. And that doesn’t include many thousands of average Americans who say they have personally experienced censorship on social media.

Whistleblowers at various tech companies have contributed to exposing a persistent, spiraling tide of political bias, that belies any mainstream media spin.

A 2016 Gizmodo story, for example, reported: 

“Facebook workers routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s influential “trending” news section, according to a former journalist who worked on the project. This individual says that workers prevented stories about the right-wing CPAC gathering, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and other conservative topics from appearing in the highly-influential section, even though they were organically trending among the site’s users.”

In 2019, Google software engineer Zachary Voorhies went public, via Project Veritas, with allegations and supporting documents that showed evident bias against conservatives, both within company culture, and in the workings of its platforms.

Voorhies quickly became a target for vilification and character assassination by the left.

Project Veritas also filmed and recorded Google and other social media employees caught expressing their anti-conseervative biases and actions.

One of the most troubling aspects of the censorship and bias, is that these powerful tech platforms have managed to retain so-called “Section 230” Federal law protections regarding liability for third-party posted content, as supposedly “neutral” communications platforms.

Legal experts and a number of conservative lawmakers argue that tech companies gatekeeping content based on political views should subject them to the same rules as traditional media companies, regarding legal liability.

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