Elon Musk has begun reinstating Twitter accounts that were subjected to lifetime bans, including controversial right-wing Canadian psychology professor Jordan Peterson.
Announced on Friday, Musk reinstated Peterson, comedian Kathy Griffin, and conservative satirical media organization The Babylon Bee. Peterson and The Babylon Bee were banned for misgendering trans people.
In July, Peterson was banned for misgendering Hollywood actor Elliot Page. At the time, Peterson said he would “rather die” than delete his tweet. At the time, Peterson published the below video on YouTube, referring to the “woke moralists” who have banned him.
The Babylon Bee was banned after “jokingly selected Rachel Levine – a prominent transgender government official – as our pick for ‘Man of the Year.'”, as they reported on their website.
Comedian Kathy Griffin was banned 11 days earlier for impersonating Musk on the platform. Musk said she can be reinstated if she pays the $8 fee for Twitter Blue.
Peterson, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, has already posted a short video to Twitter, saying “up yours woke moralists, we’ll see who cancels who.”
We’ll see who cancels who. pic.twitter.com/c6w4vjDfCs
— Dr Jordan B Peterson (@jordanbpeterson) November 18, 2022
More reinstatements may be imminent. Significant interest has centered on Twitter’s position on the ban of former U.S. President Donald Trump, who recently launched his campaign for the 2024 presidency.
Kathie Griffin, Jorden Peterson & Babylon Bee have been reinstated.
Trump decision has not yet been made.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 18, 2022
Interestingly, Musk refers to Twitter’s new policy of “freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach” in his tweet. He says that “negative/hate tweets will be max deboosted & demonetized, so no ads or other revenue to Twitter”. This means that people will be free to tweet whatever they like, but “negative/hate tweets” will be difficult to find on the platform.
Elon Musk’s poll: Reinstate Donald Trump?
On Friday, Musk gave Twitter users 24 hours to vote on whether or not Donald Trump should be reinstated to Twitter.
Reinstate former President Trump
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 19, 2022
With 16 hours to go, already 7.5 million had voted, with 53.1% of users voting for Trump’s reinstatement.
Trump was permanently banned from Twitter on January 8th, 2021, after tweeting that he “loved” the rioters at the Capitol building, calling his supporters “American patriots” and the MAGA movement a “GIANT VOICE” that will last “long into the future,” adding he refused to let them be “disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form.” Later that day, Trump tweeted that he wouldn’t be attending President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony, with Twitter responding in a separate statement that his refusal was “received by a number of his supporters as further confirmation that the (2020) election was not legitimate.”
Twitter announced the ban in a blog post:
“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them — specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter — we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
Twitter’s status as a “public commons”
Musk’s decision to reinstate previously banned Twitter accounts needs to be seen in the context of Twitter’s role as a “public commons” in the modern age.
Twitter has been celebrated for being a place that promotes the “freedom of speech”. Activists in the Arab Spring, for example, used the platform to post their demands for freedom and collectively organize grassroots movements.
Wikileaks has also harnessed the “freedom of speech” in its fight against the US Government’s attempts to extradite Julian Assange.
Many more movements make use of Twitter’s platform to share important messages that promote freedom and human welfare.
Yet Twitter’s promotion of freedom of speech has become a double-edged sword. Fake news and misinformation can easily spread on the platform. Donald Trump, for example, regularly promoted the idea that the U.S. election was fraudulent. QAnon conspiracies are rife on Twitter.
Right-wing commentators have argued that Twitter and other social media platforms have become biased against conservative perspectives in their attempts to weed out fake news. Musk said as much in a March tweet:
I’m worried about de facto bias in “the Twitter algorithm” having a major effect on public discourse.
How do we know what’s really happening?
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 24, 2022
But is Twitter actually censoring people’s posts based on political ideology?
A recent study by professors at Yale and MIT followed 9,000 politically engaged Twitter users in October 2020. Half of the users were Democratic and the other half were Republican.
The study did find a disparity between how many users from each party were suspended — with 7.7% of Democrats being suspended and 35.6% of Republicans.
Yet the study also found that Republicans on Twitter “shared substantially more news from misinformation”.
Polarization in the media
Last month I visited Los Angeles, the place I used to live six years ago. I’ve visited a few times over the last few years, and each time I’m struck by how rapidly American society seems to be changing.
On this trip, I couldn’t help but think about the lack of critical thought and analysis in the media. At the time, I shared my thoughts in the video below.
It’s difficult to compare eras, and undoubtedly I’m subject to confirmation bias.
But for me, I noticed how deeply entrenched tribalism is these days in the U.S. It seems people are either strongly pro-abortion or anti-abortion. Someone may be a passionate Donald Trump fan while others can’t sand his name being mentioned. I heard many people referring to the “idiotic” social justice warriors while many more decried the “heartless and cruel” rightwing conservatives.
It seemed to me there’s a real inability to “live in the grey”, to understand that the issues we face are complex and require opposing sides to engage in dialogue.
Personally, I’m hearted by Elon Musk’s private acquisition of Twitter. While he can be a callous and cruel person, particularly with his decision to lay off 50% of Twitter’s staff, he has a vision for Twitter. He wants it to become a platform that promotes freedom of speech and I’m sure he values dialogue between different political sides. He was quoted recently as saying he feels the most effective governments are those where the Democrats and Republicans are forced to compromise on policies.
It makes sense to me to take Twitter in the direction that Facebook has already gone, where Twitter will be “freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach”. It gives Twitter license to stand up for the principles of the freedom of speech while ensuring they can meet their obligations to the U.S. people to stamp out hate speech and fake news.
Already we can see a major positive to Musk’s decision to reinstate some of the previously banned Twitter accounts. One of Jordan Peterson’s first tweets since being reinstated is to say “up yours woke moralists, we’ll see who cancels who.”
This obviously is an example of the kind of polarizing language that takes our society to a pretty dark place. Peterson is encouraging us to take sides and see one side as evil while the side he stands for is moving humanity forward.
As I mentioned in my video above, we desperately need to engage in perspectives that are more sophisticated. We need influencers that encourage us to rise above such trivial ways of seeing the world.
With this in mind, why am I arguing that it’s a good thing for us to see tweets like this from Peterson?
I think it’s much better to see clearly how childish and trivial Jordan Peterson really is. Let’s share tweets like this and understand the perspective he’s promoting.
When Peterson is banned from Twitter, he becomes a little more mystical. We think he may be some kind of renegade, a potentially brilliant yet misunderstood thinker who may have a message worth listening to. We then may seek Peterson out. Peterson’s audience may decline, but his influence has the potential to increase.
But now, who in their right mind could take Peterson seriously? More tweets from Peterson, please. Let’s bring his perspectives to the light of day.
Could we apply this same perspective to Donald Trump? What will happen if he’s allowed back on Twitter? I’d love to know what you think and I’ll update this article with your perspectives. Just reply to my tweet below.
Twitter has reinstated @jordanbpeterson. He's shared some interesting tweets so I shared my thoughts about the lack of critical thought in our society in a recent Ideapod article. What do you think of Twitter's decision to reinstate Peterson? Should it do the same for Trump?
— Justin Brown (@jusbr) November 19, 2022