Free Speech For Me But Not For Thee….

Back in the early 1990s, Nat Hentoff wrote a book titled “Free Speech For Me But Not For Thee.” I loved it. 

Hentoff’s point was a popularized version of Law 101: liberty is indivisible.  If the government gets to decide who has a right, it isn’t a right at all–it’s a privilege that can be withdrawn. We all have freedom of speech–even despicable people voicing horrible opinions–or no one really does. (Someone should mention this to Ron DeSantis...)

Hentoff pointed out that those on the political Right–rabid as they are– aren’t the only would-be censors. He pointed to the anti-porn feminists who were active at the time, gays who supported blacklisting Anita Bryant, and various other enforcers of political correctness. When it came to college campuses, he endorsed a comment made by Clark Kerr when he was president of the University of California; Kerr said “The purpose of a university is to make students safe for ideas–not ideas safe for students.”

What triggered my recollection of Hentoff’s rigorous and intellectually-honest approach to free speech was the recent (mis)behavior of Elon Musk. Musk, a strikingly un-self-aware narcissist who likes to style himself a free speech purist, has demonstrated an understanding of free speech principles roughly on par with his understanding of how to manage a social network–that is to say, very little.

As the Daily Beast–among many others— reported, 

Self-described free speech maven Elon Musk discovered a new limit to his principles this week, after a Twitter employee publicly rebutted the billionaire’s explanation for slow app performance in many countries.

“He’s fired,” Musk declared on Monday morning.

According to The New York Times, 

Mr. Musk’s team was asked to comb through messages in Twitter’s internal chat platform and make a list of employees who were insubordinate, people briefed on the plan said. They also sorted through employees’ tweets, looking for criticism. Those deemed rule breakers received emails around 1:30 a.m. Pacific time on Tuesday, notifying them that they were fired, according to emails viewed by The Times…

Elon Musk says he wants free speech, but his track record suggests otherwise
Musk’s free speech advocacy seems to apply mostly to his own speech or that of his fans and promoters.

The firings of critics who made the mistake of exercising what they believed to be their freedom of speech followed significant cuts to Twitter’s contract work force–cuts that followed the wholesale firings upon completion of Musks 44 Billion dollar acquisition of Twitter, and preceded the recent mass resignations.  Many of the contractors who were terminated over the weekend worked on content moderation and data science and were let go without notice.

Pass the popcorn…

The obvious hypocrisy of a thin-skinned, self-styled free speech protector’s devotion to the First Amendment evaporating when someone dares to criticize him prompts a lot of schadenfreude as yet another narcissistic buffoon discovers that he doesn’t know half as much as he thinks he does.

Clearly, some men believe that being rich means they are smarter than everyone else about everything. (America watched for four years while Donald Trump–who has a lot in common with Elon Musk–demonstrated daily that he didn’t know diddly-squat about government and how it worked. ) Now we are watching Musk create chaos with his new toy–for which he vastly overpaid–as he learns the hard way that management of a social media platform involves skills beyond those needed to compose and send a tweet–not to mention compliance with legal regulations of which he was obviously unaware.

I don’t know how Musk came up with an offer of 44 Billion dollars for a platform that had rarely been profitable, but under his management, its finances have already gotten appreciably worse. Thanks to his boneheaded “blue check charge,” imposters have had a field day, and important advertisers have “paused” their spending. (That includes local giant Eli Lilly, after phony Lilly tweets promising free insulin were left up for hours.) Others who aren’t currently advertising on the platform include Macy’s and General Motors. Omnicom Media Group, composed of agencies representing companies like PepsiCo and McDonald’s, urged its clients to halt activity on Twitter. Omicron warns that risks have “risen sharply to a level most would find unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, Musk’s increasingly frantic efforts to avoid bankruptcy and the effective destruction of Twitter are all playing out in public–and it is the public humiliation he is trying to avoid (or at least moderate) by firing employees who dare to criticize or disagree with him.

Too bad Nat Hentoff died in 2017. He’d have had some pretty pithy observations about Elon Musk’s version of free speech. He’d probably even share my popcorn.  


  1. “Musk’s free speech advocacy seems to apply mostly to his own speech or that of his fans and promoters.”

    Musk seems to believe his money can buy control of free speech in this electronic communication society today which includes the media and anyone who has access to the Internet. He has now accepted Trump’s application to return to Twitter based on his purported Tweet survey results on this much debated issue. Can we believe Musk, who supports the Trump false claims and baseless promises regarding all issues he claims to be truth and those he accuses of being “fake news”? Can we believe Musk’s reported results of the survey without knowing why, if true, the majority wanted Trump to return to Twitter and what was their reasoning? Was it to restore freedom of speech to Twitter or to support Trump’s 3rd presidential campaign? Should we question the timing of both issues? Why did Musk fight so hard in the legal system to take back his $44 Billion offer then suddenly go through with that mega purchase? “A bird in the hand…” Will this action restore the aid to free Trump’s blatant lies and accusations to provide free campaign time by reporting his Tweets?

    I caught the end of the movie, “Absent Malice”; the term meaning “without the intent or desire to cause pain or injury to another without legal justification, “We have no knowledge the story is false, therefore we’re absent malice.” Trump’s campaign and administration were based on the intent and the desire to cause pain and injury without legal or moral justification; his return to Musk’s private Twitter organization will again inundate the world with Trump’s face and lies ad nauseum. “Free speech for he but not for me.” is the name of the Musk game.

    NO; I do NOT have a Twitter account, primarily to avoid Trump.

  2. Trump’s father bought a doctor to falsify a diagnosis for bone spur to get young Donald out of the draft … four times. Trump learned early, money, and lot’s of it, buys a lot of unfettered privilege. He learned he could buy a lot of free speech to bull fart whatever he wants to say … even if it is a big lie. Now Elon needs an infusion of cash other than his own. Is timing just incidental?

  3. As a journalist, Twitter has been handy but also highly frustrating. Sheila mentioned the “blue checkmark” or “verification system.”

    Before Elon launched his feeble thought-out subscription system of $8 with a blue checkmark plan, he called it a “lords and peasants” system. Meaning the checkmark was only handed out to those Twitter thought would bring clout to Twitter.

    What we are learning (most of us already knew as much) is the blue checkmark wasn’t a verification system but a censorship exercise. It gave certain people priority in the feeds while leaving others in the crowd of smoke. As you can imagine, establishment personalities were prioritized because they would NEVER embarrass the advertisers. This was further expounded by the internal algorithm.

    We are also learning there were “bot farms” or computer-generated accounts meant to increase or promote certain users and topics, such as the #UkraineWar.

    Based on 11/20/22, my thesis is Twitter was NOT even a free speech experiment, but a controlled experiment in social media used to control the message. Elon Musk paid $44 billion to destroy the controlled message for “something else.”

    Don’t feel bad for Elon and his investors, they will get rescued (mainly Saudi Arabia).

    When we live in a world of fiction and non-fiction, sometimes it’s hard to discern what is real or imagined. True or false. 😉

    Stay tuned…

  4. I will have to commend twitter. I have always complained that in the Internet age, the only barrier to publication is a working email address and anybody can spread misinformation. AT LEAST twitter raised the barrier to a working email address AND $8.00!

  5. Elon is, mostly, compensating for his wounded (little) ego.
    I don’t do Twitter, nor FB, for that matter, and am not savvy about their workings, but Elon, as with TFG,
    is so much out there and behaving as he does, in plain sight, that it is not a hard thing to do some armchair
    assessing of his “schtick.”
    It may not be a coincidence that TFG runs an odious, lie encrusted, thing called “Truth Social” (smelling of
    Orwellian “Newspeak,” while Elon professes to be interested in free speech.
    And, of course, there is always FloridaRon’s BSpeak.
    I looked up the 5 Laws of Stupidity, and on the site at which I was able to view them, there were repeated
    pictures of GWB. Funny how he had “outlawed” speech, or words, that referred to Climate Change even,
    or especially, in the government! Yeah, let’s go elect some more brilliant Republicans! NOT!

  6. Corporations are the application of standard accounting to the production of goods and services offered for sale. The accounting rules consider how goods and services get produced; by combining raw materials, energy, means of production, and labor, using knowledge. Of all those things, the only two that are subject to ownership by the corporation are the means of production and intellectual property. Employees go home with the knowledge they brought to the job at the end of the day.

    What is produced are goods and services and waste but the products are always of temporary value and eventually also end up as waste. Energy is also a pass-through commodity. It enters the production system, adds to labor to do work, then leaves, which is non-intuitive and therefore known only to science. It cannot be destroyed, only temporarily employed.

    Why even mention all of this? It’s relative to the Elon Musk debacle. He is a venture capitalist who loans money to corporations in order to help them get started up front when costs are higher than income. Those loans give him some claim to the title of the means of production and the intellectual property that the corporation might also buy using his money.

    His actions vis-a-vis Twitter though reveal different assumptions on his part. He assumes the right to control much more, which will be his downfall. The rest, like the customers and the market they represent, operate under their control, not his. His recent actions are repelling rather than attracting them.

    He like Trump and many, many others thought themselves immune to Lord Acton’s observation that power corrupts, and absolute power (even if it only is assumed) corrupts absolutely. They are victims of their own corruption by power.

  7. Elon is a master of exploitation and hubris, but not much else. IMHO he’s not worth the handwringing and angst.

  8. The press loves eyeballs and clicks – thus the coverage of The Duck and Musky (the odor inside a new Tesla). Today’s NYT has massive pages on The Duck…so much for their concern for our country.

  9. elons sudden whatevers cost him when the SEC decided his view (read loud mouth)caused undo harm for many on wall street. now hes got a mega/maga phone(y) hes decided being a bad boy who needs constant attention,and security around him,he will now bang his tin cup in social media land. pay attention or ill cut your account. $8 bucks,no please,,advatisers are taking stock, yea,right,they could care less about dignity or presence. carry on, dont boycott now,there bills in the house by the rightwing to make that illegal,or ill make that a daily subject,boycotting me.. (you see where this is going) the rich may have succeed now on buying a major social media hub (like the republican party)to scam,slam,buy,deal,defend,critcsize,kill,exploit any and all to make sure they,the rich will have more influence. its bad enough the voices that i have read freely between the daily surf, is becoming a all paid for landscape. in otherwords, where i found freely open journalism is now being closed up into APPs and payments to read in their circles. i have no issue with the journalists being paid for their opinions and studies,but i have a issue with being told i have to APP my devices to obtain them. the cost,cool i can handle that,but if i cant just log on,pass word my way into the site for my paid enjoyment,then they,or everyone has decided my privacy be damn.thats everybody in the internet world. sure many say you decide the cookies,except,pieces of certain stories,and/or pages of a catalog wont have a picture view or have a side bar where i can find added tech by the manf,of a tech drawing in scale. what this country needs is a pause on whos privacy and how much is used to make them a buck,at your cost. and whos doing what,and why…elons pet is just flack for us to ignore how much were charged in trying to stay above,or ahead of political discourse keeping America alive and well. imagine how much privacy has been gathered so someone can influence and or demand you walk their line(you cant live without it). elon has a new toy,we pay far too much attention to him personally,or just giving him the finger. its time the issue of the rich needing to control us, is to castrate elon.

  10. Terry’s link to Carlo cipolla and his five basic laws of human stupidity, 😲🤣👍 excellent find this morning Terry!

    Stupid people love to go along to get along, stupid people want to be liked. Stupid people work against their own best and self-interests, which is stupid, lol!

    Sadly, stupid people think they are intellectual because even stupid people are educated and stupid people have college degrees, but stupid people have no common sense! Stupid people will trust without verification, stupid people believe with certainty what somebody tells them, and it doesn’t matter their station in life or society.

    Stupid people don’t live underneath viaducts or shopping cart tents, those are sick people! Stupid people live in the Trump Tower, they live on 5th avenue, they live in Hollywood, Kanye West is a fine example of a stupid person. Elon Musk is another example of a stupid person, money does not make someone smart!

    Free speech allows the stupid people to put their opinions out there for all to peruse. But, does the rest of humanity recognize stupidity when they hear it? I think the answer is not or mostly never.

    So who’s stupid? Those who are obviously stupid? Reality show stars, the bachelor, housewives of Atlanta, lone survivor, naked and afraid, and how about the mask singer who gives one of the most extreme stupid persons, Nick Cannon, a platform that people are actually moving to acceptance! He can’t restrain himself from pumping buns in any oven he can pop open without using oven mitts, lol! Or, maybe the wealthy and fashionable influencers, they love to spread they’re stupidity under the guise of fashion and intellect!

    So, not only free speech, where the stupid can inform the world how stupid they are, but free will allows those so inclined to kneel at the feet of the gods of stupidity!

    Yes free will, free moral agency, freedom to express one’s opinions, free to display any level of stupidity, free to be a bigot, free to pass judgment, freedom to hate, freedom to impose your dogma on others, instead of working to make your life better by what you can control. The trouble with stupid people, is they can’t see it! They don’t know what their life means, they’re confused about why they even exist! If humanity is just an accident, if we all came from a funky slimy swamp, then what is stupidity? Maybe stupidity is supposed to be the norm!?!? Maybe shrewd mental acuity is the outlier! Does intellectual capacity of an individual prevent stupidity? If you have a battery that runs on 1% of its capacity, it’s not going to be very effective. Capacity in humanity takes discernment, it takes a certain amount of logic, and, it takes faith in what you believe is actually the truth of the matter, and, that’s done by your own research and not by what someone else tells you. Common sense goes hand in hand with conscience, and a uncorrupted conscience will always steer one in the proper direction and point them towards rational sanity!

    Being a pragmatist is too rigid, and dealing with semantics is to vague, search for The Ring of Truth and then research through trusted and proven sources. Enlightenment is the best disinfectant against stupidity!

    Hideo Odagiri, professor emeritus at Hosei University in Tokyo Japan was quoted in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper; “I cannot blot out the vivid recollections I have of a consciousness of sins, such as the nasty egotism that exists in a child, shameful jealousy, betrayal behind a person’s back. This consciousness was branded on my mind when I was an elementary school and still torments me.”

    I feel for that professor, I’ve had those same feelings! It’s horrific. But, it definitely is not a mystery! Stupidity is learned, it is not a natural state.

    “Whenever people of the nations that do not have law do by nature the things of the law, these people, although not having law, are a law to themselves. They are the very ones who demonstrate the matter of the law to be written in their hearts while their conscience is bearing witness with them and, between their own thoughts, they are being accused or even excused.”
    (Romans 2: 14, 15)

    Our own internal mechanisms if they are strong enough, will identify stupidity, lies, innuendo, con artistry, betrayal, deceit, it’s your little alarm, and actually it’s not so little! Because it can actually save a person’s life.

  11. A FREE SPEECH LETTER TO ELON: Hey, Elon, take a letter from history. Henry VIII was a rich and powerful king of England with an overabundance of testosterone and became so angry with the pope for refusing him a divorce that he started a church of his own (which English royalty still heads). So Christianity began with the murder of a carpenter’s son and progressed with a Catholic priest who married a nun (his rib) and nailed some beefs with the pope on a door and an English king who married church and state – hardly auspicious beginnings for a worship of the gentle and forgiving soul-saver to whom we sing praises, raise prayers, and cross ourselves – all under the watchful eyes of todays’ clergy, who have their own testosterone and other problems with which to contend, not to mention TV preachers and other such charlatans.

    So, Elon, think the acquisition and storage of great hordes of assets gives you special rights to mistreat those within your reach (and the consuming public)? That’s not what the carpenter’s son thought by his short-lived example. Think putting people by the thousands off work and disrupting their families and creditors because they said something you didn’t like can be justified based on an accounting ledger? So you don’t accept the ethics and morality of some moral man’s life and death over two thousand years ago as a measure of your conduct today? Fine, tell me how your conduct measures up to the expected conduct of the average atheist CEO today.

    Perhaps it’s time for you to return to South Africa. Most of us Americans whether religious or atheist or at any point between feel your business ethics and morals are beneath another standard of business we expect (and one violated all too often as it is), the American Standard. So leave us, and take your assets with you. You will not be missed.

    Signed, AMERICA

    Perhaps it’s time to give you some of your own medicine since you have said many things we don’t like and send you back to

  12. It appears I have inadvertently left some of the language I was doodling with in writing this squib IN the squib. Motion to strike. GES

  13. Gerald:
    way to go. glad some if all of my privacy remains with me. i dont fb,twit,tik,or any app to social media.. i prefer the open and free site of Prof,Sheila Kennedy.. theres a better view,educated,informed,updated and ongoing. thanks all, this should be the gold standard of
    responsible discussions.

  14. Pete:
    if banks were to go back to lending to startups,and people, who have the guts to start a small buisness. instead we have become to expect private money to finance any thing. instead of a local community to step up to the job. elon may loan money,but i see him on the dollar bills..

  15. Sharon, that’s exactly what my SB CULT member “preacher ” brother believes. Needless to say that didn’t go over well with my Catholic beliefs.

  16. Lester – “SCOTUS nailed it with Citizen’s United – money = free speech.”
    I don’t know if you are being facetious, or missing the true point.
    More money is not more speech; it is the same amount of speech with more VOLUME.

    Free – Stand up and speak
    $50-100 – get a megaphone and drown out the person speaking
    $1-2,000 – get a sound truck and drown out the person with a megaphone
    A few Billion – buy a media platform (not only Musk, but Murdock)

    Just saying –

    Sheila – make enough popcorn for all of us – and I do agree that Hentoff would have had a bit to say — and would have shared your popcorn.

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