AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
Last Thursday conservative media company The Daily Wire shared What is a Woman?, its powerful documentary exposing the dark reality of transgender ideology, for free on Twitter, with the post amassing some 174 million views and 168,000 retweets as of Monday evening and dominating conversation on the site. But if it had not been for an eleventh-hour save from Elon Musk himself, the film would have been shut down by the censorship culture that clearly is still embedded at Twitter, highlighting how much work remains to turn Twitter into a self-sustaining free-speech platform.
What is a Woman?, which premiered on The Daily Wire’s streaming service last June, takes a critical look at the transgender movement, and in particular so-called “gender-affirming care” for minors. The film is the brainchild of Daily Wire podcaster Matt Walsh, who in recent years has become one of the leading voices opposing transgender ideology.
In What is a Woman?, Walsh interviews self-identified pro-trans individuals ranging from women’s rights protestors to a gender studies professor and even Democrat Congressman Mark Takano – all of whom were unaware of Walsh’s opposition to transgenderism. Walsh proceeds to ask them a series of seemingly simple questions (like “What is a woman?”) that see the interviewees go from confident, to uncomfortable, to outright furious that anyone would dare challenge them to defend their beliefs.
The film also dives into the history of transgender ideology, tracing it back to the controversial research of Dr. Alfred Kinsey, who claimed “children are sexual from birth,” and psychologist John Money, who once recommended “gender reassignment surgery” for a two-year-old.
Upon the release of What is a Woman? last year, the left declared Walsh and those who praised the film personas non grata. Critics refused to review it. Eventbrite banned accounts that tried to organize public screenings. Walsh himself received death threats – all for a film in which most of the run time is dedicated to allowing pro-trans individuals to say what they believe.
But rather than backing down, Walsh announced last week that The Daily Wire would be sharing What is a Woman? for free on Twitter.
Despite the predictable howls of opposition from the left, it initially appeared as if Twitter would allow and even help promote the film. According to Daily Wire CEO Jeremy Boreing, Twitter “offered us the opportunity to buy a package to host the movie on a dedicated event page and to promote the event to every Twitter user over the first 10 hours.”
But just days before the scheduled online premier, Twitter reversed course, saying that they would actually be limiting the reach of the film due to two instances where Walsh “misgenders” trans-identifying individuals.
Two minutes after The Daily Wire’s account posted the movie at 8 pm last Thursday, Twitter disabled the retweet and share functions, while also adding a notice that the film contained “hateful content.” It appeared, once again, as if the left-wing Big Tech censors had prevailed.
But then Musk stepped in. Through a series of tweets, it became clear that the decision to censor What is a Woman? had been in direct defiance of Musk. Retweet and sharing capabilities on The Daily Wire’s posting of the film were soon restored and, in a stunning turn of events, Musk himself shared What is a Woman? to his 142 million followers with the caption “every parent should watch this.”
A day later, Ella Irwin, Twitter’s top “content moderation” official, resigned.
While the entire incident turned out to be a massive victory for both The Daily Wire and everyone who is concerned about the stifling of debate surrounding transgenderism, it’s worth remembering just how close it came to being another win for the censorship regime and the cancel culture mob. If not for Musk stepping in and personally ensuring that The Daily Wire and other Twitter users could share the film, the release would have gone virtually unnoticed.
This raises a troubling question: If the “content moderators” at Twitter were willing to defy Musk in this high-profile instance, even at the cost of their jobs, how many other far less high-profile users are still subject to similar censorship on the platform despite Musk’s promises to end such practices?
Free speech advocates would be rightly concerned about having to rely on the benevolence and attention of Twitter’s owner to ensure that users are able to engage in free and open debate, as Musk promised when he purchased the site. Merely changing the Twitter rules and guidelines was clearly not enough to prevent rogue employees from continuing to silence disfavored content.
Though conservatives rightly celebrated when Musk purchased Twitter and purged much of the company’s censorship apparatus, whether that victory was temporary or lasting remains to be seen. Musk’s true challenge, if he is sincere about his mission of protecting free speech, is changing the culture of Twitter, not just restoring a few high-profile banned accounts or intervening when a popular conservative personality is censored.
Changing the culture of an organization is a far more daunting task than removing a few toxic individuals. In Twitter’s case, it necessitates building an infrastructure of leaders within the company who share Musk’s commitment to allowing free and open debate and will uphold that principle even when Musk is not around to enforce it personally.
On that front, last week’s drama was not the most encouraging sign – particularly as Musk turns the reins over to new CEO Linda Yaccarino and has announced his intention to significantly scale back his involvement in the day-to-day operations of the company. Reactions among conservatives to Musk’s decision to hire Yaccarino, who was previously an executive at NBCUniversal, have been lukewarm at best.
However, despite these very real concerns, Musk has largely delivered on his promises, and has earned the benefit of the doubt. While Twitter is hardly a perfect free speech platform, it is far, far better than it was when Musk took over last October.
For that, conservatives and free speech advocates can be grateful – and hopeful for more progress in the months and years ahead.
Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio.