Mises Wire

X Marks the Spot: Social Media’s Last Stand

Ever since Elon Musk acquired Twitter, now X, the censorship regime has been hell-bent on harassing the company and Musk himself—with bad publicity, accusations of antisemitism, and advertiser boycotts. Musk struck back by threatening to sue the Anti-Defamation League, suing Media Matters for defamation, and famously telling fleeing advertisers “Go f*ck yourself.”

Musk’s X has the potential to weaken the Big Digital woke cartel, which censors content, censures and bans users, and serves as a propaganda arm of the globalist totalitarian statists whom the cartel so assiduously serves. I have argued that Musk’s X gambit would represent an important test case because it pits “the world’s richest man” against these woke cartel members and the state that benefits from their allegiance and compliance, demonstrating just how much they infringe on property rights by controlling what Musk can do with his own property.

Shortly after Musk moved to buy then-Twitter, several dozen countries and international governance bodies—including the United States and the European Union—announced the ratification of “A Declaration for the Future of the Internet,” which, among other things, aims to “bolster resilience to disinformation and misinformation, and increase participation in democratic processes.” Just two days after Musk announced that he was buying the company, the Biden administration announced the formation of a “Disinformation Governance Board,” which has since been scrapped, at least in name.

In October 2022, I noted that one of the major threats posed to Musk’s platform would come from the European Commission (EC)—with its new Digital Services Act (DSA), signed into law on November 16, 2022 and put into effect in August 2023. In fact, the EC began threatening Musk with control of his social media platform’s content from the moment he took over. After Musk posted, “the bird is freed,” EC chief Thierry Breton quote-posted: “In Europe, the bird will fly by our EU rules.” Breton no doubt referred to the EC’s DSA, which aims to ban “illegal and harmful content” across Europe.

Now, the EC is launching proceedings against X for alleged violations, including the “dissemination of illegal content in the context of Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel.” On Monday, December 18, 2023, Breton—the EC commissioner responsible for enforcing the DSA—posted a harrowing notice of the proceedings on X: “Today we open formal infringement proceedings against @X:/Suspected breach of obligations to counter #IllegalContent and #Disinformation/Suspected breach of #Transparency obligations/Suspected #DeceptiveDesign of user interface.” Unsurprisingly, X is the first social media company to face such scrutiny from the EC under its new law.

In fact, the DSA aims at universalizing content moderation by large-scale social media platforms and search engines, subjecting them to the EU’s stringent and anti-free-speech laws against “disinformation” and “hate speech,” which are not (yet) recognized legal categories in the United States. X is being compelled to abide by EU-enforced content moderation for its EU users. Otherwise, it could be fined 6 percent of its global income or be banned from operating across the EU if it is found to have breached the law. Banning EU users would mean that Europeans would not have access to X—unless, that is, they use a VPN. However, given that X will be forced to abide by EU content moderation, it’s very likely that X will simply be bound to apply the DSA’s rules to all content.

The censorship regime that has acted behind closed doors and through secret backchannels in the US—as revealed in the Twitter Files and Missouri v. Biden ruling—has now come out into the open with the EC’s policies and investigations. The shot across the bow fired by the EC represents the potential to ruin X entirely, either by forcing it to censor content more than before Musk bought the company or by fining and starving it of European users.

Should X be taken down by the EU and other statists or should speech be severely curtailed on the platform, the digital town square promised by Musk will simply not exist. Users will be forced to self-censor, “violators” will be censored, and repeat “violators” will be banned. That means that the regime’s narratives will go largely unchallenged, and counternarratives—which are often true or simply represent differing perspectives—will be exiled and driven underground. X may be the last stand for free speech on social media.

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