Amac Exclusive – By David P. Deavel
“Time to Return to Twitter” was the declaration—not question—of conservative think tank president and Powerline blogger John Hinderaker, who had won the honor of being kicked off the platform before but now announced that “. . .a new day is dawning!” He continued: “With Twitter about to be released from left-wing bondage, as we hope, it will be worthwhile to actually engage on the platform. So I will undertake to follow more good conservative accounts, and tweet more often and, I hope, more creatively.”
Hinderaker is not alone. While the left has pursued yet another extended and incoherent tantrum, many conservatives such as Hinderaker are atwitter about Elon Musk’s purchase of the social media platform with the outsized influence on American social and political matters. They may well be right about the possibilities and they should start making progress, but it would behoove conservatives to proceed with some caution and to remember that though he has roped the Twitter stallion, he may not finally be able to break it. Conservatives ought to keep building up other networks for action even if they come back to Twitter.
Of course we can all enjoy the caterwauling of the left about this for a while. They are causing deep belly laughs with talk about the potential for “dictatorship” at the same time as they decry Musk’s definitively non-dictatorial plans. He wants Twitter to not muzzle speech about controversial issues, especially in cases where the science is definitely not “settled” even if the political science is (at least from the left side of the aisle). He also wants to release the algorithms that govern why certain things are seen and promoted while others are not on the platform. Not only will people be able to see how they might best optimize the platform, but they will be able to figure out fairly quickly when Twitter employees are intervening to punish their political or ideological enemies and push their friends.
That’s what most people have been accusing Twitter of for quite a while—and the fact that this week many conservatives who managed to remain on the platform are reporting sudden improvements in their accounts’ numbers seems to indicate that Twitter employees who wish to stay are perhaps easing off their interventions on the network so that the new boss will not see what they’ve been doing when he arrives in the corner office. After all, the rumors coming out of headquarters are that Vijaya Gadde, a lawyer very emphatically in favor of censorship and employed by Twitter to the tune of $17 million a year, may well be fired.
Perhaps the best part of this scenario. Those who have been doing their best Marie Antoinette impression as they tell ordinary Americans suffering from high gas prices to “buy a Tesla” are now realizing that the man with the electric cars is the one who may put an end to their ability to control one very visible corner of the public square. As some commentators have noted, even more environmental good may come from this deal than the Teslas, what with all the liberal tears in California preventing yet another summer of drought.
But several notes of caution ought to be registered when thinking about this deal. First, it may well be more difficult than thought to completely revamp the organization originally designated as a “free speech platform” to be a, well, free speech platform. The stalwart progressives at the European Union have been threatening Musk that what Twitter needs is “more moderation.” They will, says Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner for the Internal Market, shut down Twitter in Europe if he does not “comply.” Given Musk’s record of making deals with the Chinese, might he be susceptible to economic threats? Second, now that the Biden Administration has an Orwellian Ministry of Truth, what kinds of federal government pressures might be put on the platform? Third, unless Twitter’s employees are carefully culled, it may well be the case that employees at the company may engage in subtle sabotage of the boss’s aims for a while. Fourth, given the tech ecosystem, might there be the kind of sabotage from other companies that happened with Parler, for instance? Remember that that platform was making headway when Amazon Web Services claimed that the Twitter-like platform had violated their contract in allowing planning of January 6 activities? It turned out not to be true, but the damage was done. Twitter itself relies on Amazon Web Services.
In short, Elon Musk has cracked the egg, but let’s not count our Twitter bird before it’s hatched.
So what should we do? I never joined Twitter but had plans to when publishing a book I edited that came out shortly before the 2020 election. By that time, however, Twitter’s bald-faced censorship of material that went against narratives advanced by public health agencies and the Democratic Party had become pretty obvious. The censorship of the Hunter Biden laptop story was symbolic of everything going on. I joined Parler instead, but the aforementioned kneecapping of that platform ended its stunning growth. The whole site was inoperative for weeks and momentum shifted elsewhere. It still exists, but I do little on it.
Since then, however, two more platforms have arisen. Truth Social, owned by President Trump’s new company Trump and Media and Technology Group and headed by former California Congressman Devin Nunes, has been in the news recently because the big boss himself posted on it. “I’M BACK! #COVFEFE” was what the former president posted on Thursday, the day Musk’s Twitter deal went through. The platform has recently migrated the entire platform to Rumble’s cloud services, ensuring that they will finally be able to onboard all the people who have attempted to join but have been put on waiting lists.
I haven’t joined that one, but I did join GETTR in January. Founded in July 2021 and run by former Trump senior adviser Jason Miller, it has started off well, getting to more than 5 million users this month and reporting that even after Musk’s buyout of Twitter became certain at the end of April, their own sign-ups increased by 323 percent.
With the exception of having my account suspended for a day for a supposed violation of terms of service without any indication of what I had posted that violated them, I have had a largely positive experience. After appealing this and noting that nothing I had posted violated anything in the policies, my account was restored, albeit with no explanation of what had triggered the suspension in the first place. This was an annoyance, but a small one. While GETTR is certainly not a perfect site, it has been introducing new features, including multilingual livestreaming from networks around the world, an ability to post directly to GETTR and other accounts (allowing those who want a presence on other sites to be able to maintain it without having to deal with them), and, promised for the near future, encrypted direct messaging.
What is most important about the site, though, is what Musk wants for Twitter: the freedom to speak one’s mind, especially about politics. Like all social media sites, the appeal is in being able to access and share news, jokes, and opinions freely with others. GETTR and Truth Social are relatively small now, but they are gaining members who are able to connect with each other, get information, and make alliances across the right and even among independents who are interested in hearing voices beyond the legacy media.
Some will object that sites such as GETTR are an “echo chamber for the right.” But one of the people I follow recently posted that while it has been a “safe haven for those that have been deplatformed and censored,” it is also a source of uncensored news on COVID and the fights for freedom around the world. And uncensored news sources will often present multiple and conflicting viewpoints. Another GETTR user tells me that this is one of the appeals of a truly free speech platform. He can get to know which sites are trustworthy and which are not.
Not only are there multiple news sources, but there are also multiple viewpoints, even if most American users are in the same general camp politically speaking. As a Catholic who posts his more theological writings, I often find myself interacting with both Evangelicals and atheists. And to limit oneself to politics, just watching the partisans of Ohio Republican Senate candidates J. D. Vance and Josh Mandel on the site will cure anybody of the “echo chamber” illusion. If anything, the danger is occasionally more that of the circular firing squad. But this is rare. The gentleman I follow who likes selecting his news sources notes that he enjoys the interactions on the site “even from users critical of my posts.”
Lively, free-spirited Americans do enjoy debating what makes for the common weal.
Will these sites triumph over the old legacy media sites, as some say? It will depend in part on their own ability to keep their free speech vibe—and whether Mr. Musk can command his at Twitter. I am waiting to see whether he will be successful before I again contemplate joining that site. Even if he is successful, I think it’s good to have the other sites around and have them healthy. Even if they only remain mostly “conservative” sites, they serve an important purpose in providing needed competition in the tech realm, especially when it comes to free speech. They also provide that opportunity for people of—mostly—like minds when it comes to America and the world to make connections that might not be made otherwise. One of the goals of the left is to isolate their opponents. Having a platform in the hands of conservatives means the opportunity to build up alternative connections that ensure us we’re not alone and we’re not powerless.
Shall we all gather at the Twitter stream? It’s ok to do so, but remember that even if it’s the public watering hole, there are other wells in America to which we ought to gather in order to draw out and share information, civic friendship, and matter for arguments about how things ought to be.
David P. Deavel is editor of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, co-director of the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy, and a visiting professor at the University of St. Thomas (MN). He is the co-host of the Deep Down Things podcast. Follow him on GETTR @davidpdeavel.