It’s hard to keep up with the whiplashing public reaction to Twitter’s management, as Americans on the political left and right take turns venting their fury at the social media giant.

Now that the world’s richest man Elon Musk has finalized his $44 billion takeover of Twitter, you can expect to hear continued gripes over the company’s prospective policies, including reducing the level of content moderation.

While I have no doubt that Musk anticipates that this venture will turn profitable and help promote his other businesses, he asserts that his primary objective is to re-form Twitter into a haven for public discourse. That sounds like a noble goal.

“I think it’s very important for there to be an inclusive arena for free speech,” Musk explained. “It’s just really important that people have […] both the reality and the perception that they are able to speak freely within the bounds of the law.” However, he noted that Twitter must not become a “free-for-all hell-scape.” Some users are skeptical to say the least.

Already a handful of B-list celebrities are either taking a break from Twitter or vowing to boycott it for fear of what Musk might do. In May, progressive politicians also broadcasted their concerns. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, warned of an “explosion of hate crimes,” and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, called Musk’s Twitter purchase “dangerous for our democracy.”

They fear that Twitter could become a platform that amplifies conspiracy theories, bigotry, disinformation and the incitement of violence. What’s more, as the progressive outlet Slate put it, “Elon Musk says he wants free speech on Twitter. But for whom?” Clearly, the implication is that free speech and reduced content moderation only benefit certain voices.

Meanwhile, a host of conservatives have been applauding Musk’s Twitter acquisition, but it wasn’t long ago when they were denouncing the platform for supposedly stifling their free speech, while providing a protected refuge for left-leaning ideologies.

“Time and time again we have seen Twitter exploit its immunity to silence the voices of those with whom Silicon Valley billionaires disagree,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, complained in 2020, and he is hardly alone. Two years ago, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, wrote, “Big Tech has declared open war on the Republican Party and conservatives across America.” Ironically, he shared that message on Twitter – ostensibly a member of “Big Tech.”

Around the same time, droves of conservatives even announced that they were planning on leaving Twitter and going into a self-imposed exile. Others – most notably former President Donald J. Trump – had their Twitter accounts formally suspended by the digital platform.

Over the past few years, disputes over social media have spilled over into the U.S. Capitol and state houses as lawmakers of various stripes have debated ways to impose additional regulations on platforms like Twitter to shape them in their image. Their objections essentially boil down to two competing allegations.

As I wrote in a 2021 column, “A slew of Republican lawmakers believe that Facebook and Twitter too aggressively censor users – particularly conservative voices – while Democrats feel that these companies don’t censor enough.”

What has been shockingly absent from many social media debates – both in public forums and in legislatures across America – is the role of the free market. Twitter isn’t a government-run agency, public utility or even a necessary commodity; it’s a private company and doesn’t enjoy a monopoly. As such, it ought to be able to impose whatever policies it deems appropriate so long as they aren’t illegal.

If users don’t like the company’s direction, they should feel free to vote with their feet and join other social media platforms instead. In fact, I believe boycotts are an expression of free markets and democracy, and they can encourage companies to change as they vie for your business.

The years-long debate over Twitter has revealed some striking similarities between some vocal members of the right and left. Many of them support the notion of “free speech for me, but not for thee” in which they’d rather use Twitter as a cudgel to silence speech that they don’t like.

Despite announcing plans to boycott social media in anger, few go through with it, or as the New York Times put it, “One thing that unites conservatives and liberals? No matter how loudly they denounce the social media platform, they don’t actually leave.”

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