News & Commentary

Musk: Twitter Will ‘Max Deboost’ & Demonetize ‘Negative’ & ‘Hate’ Speech

Out of one side of his mouth, Elon Musk talks a lot about how he wants to save free speech. Out of the other, he says the complete opposite. People need to pay more attention to the latter.

On November 18, Musk proclaimed:

Given the fact that quite possibly the core debate surrounding free speech and censorship online in recent years has been what qualifies as “hate” speech and who gets to decide?, the absurdity of Musk simply ignoring this longstanding and very obvious issue while announcing his “new” policy wasn’t lost on many of the thousands of respondents.

Freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach” (aka deboosting or shadowing banning) is not only not a “new” policy at all—it’s also the exact language that has been used for years by various thought leaders and pundits wanting big tech companies to algorithmically suppress wrongthink in the exact manner that Musk is saying he will (continue to) do.

A few examples:

  • In August of 2018, Renee Diresta—co-founder of “Vaccinate California” and alleged “disinformation expert”—wrote an article for Wired entitled “Free Speech Is Not the Same As Free Reach,” in which she argued that the tactic should be used to suppress things like “hate speech,” Russia Today, and “dangerous anti-vaccine misinformation.”
  • In February of 2019, Casey Newton wrote an article for The Verge citing Diresta and “gushing” (his word) about how Pinterest’s “solution” to “fringe anti-vaccination groups” on the platform was to “simply shut them down,” using an approach that some call ‘freedom of speech versus freedom of reach.’
  • In July of 2019, a New Yorker article reported that, a few months earlier, “Hunter Walk, a former YouTube executive, tweeted that the company should protect ‘freedom of speech’ but not ‘freedom of reach.’ He suggested that YouTube could suppress toxic videos by delisting them as candidates for its recommendation engine—in essence, he wrote, this would ‘shadowban‘ them”
  • In November of 2019, actor Sacha Baron Cohen (“Borat”) famously—or infamously—argued that “freedom of speech is not freedom of reach” as the keynote speaker at an ADL summit. He called for the abolition of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects social media platforms from liability for content users post. “Cohen’s persistent attacks on free speech and his advocating of social media censorship are absurd and sinister,” argued a New York Daily News column at the time.
  • In November of 2020, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenbladt said in his opening remarks at that year’s ADL summit: “A year ago, my friend Sacha Baron Cohen stood in from of this conference and said that when it comes to online hate, freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom of reach. And so today, I call on the social media services to take a drastic step: stop handing the microphone to those who exploit your services. Suspend them from your services. Eliminate their access. End. It. Now.”

Since taking over Twitter in late October, Musk and his team have already demonstrated a willingness to outright suspend, ban, and refuse to unban people with the same type of arbitrariness and selective enforcement as the previous Twitter regime.

See for instance:


Now Musk is openly saying he is going to continue shadowbanning as well, based on the same type of vague and amorphous “policy” that existed before his takeover.

“Meet the new boss…”

Image Credit: Steve Jurvetson (CC BY 2.0). May be modified from original.