Elon Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur who has founded companies (Tesla, SpaceX) and purchased others (X, formerly known as Twitter), is a strong proponent of freedom of speech. Last April, he described free speech as “the bedrock of a functioning democracy” and Twitter as being the “digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”
Some of Musk’s critics and supporters have disputed his claim of being a “free speech absolutist.” One recent change of heart does seem to show his commitment to this cherished principle may be stronger now than it ever was before.
This is related to Musk’s decision to remove the long-standing X/Twitter ban on the controversial Texas-based libertarian radio host Alex Jones. It was instituted in Sept. 2018 after an explosive exchange with CNN reporter Oliver Darcy. Musk stood by the existing ban after he purchased Twitter last October. He originally said “No” to social media users when asked if he would reverse it. He later tweeted on Nov. 20, 2022, “My firstborn child died in my arms. I felt his last heartbeat. I have no mercy for anyone who would use the deaths of children for gain, politics or fame.”
This statement was related to the Sandy Hook massacre. We’ll get into that shortly.
Jones has been called everything from an unhinged conspiracy theorist to the most dangerous individual on a political soapbox. He runs a website, InfoWars, and had the ear (for the most part) of former US President Donald Trump when he was in the White House. While he does tackle real news stories and political issues, he also spends an enormous amount of time focusing on outrageous and often unfounded ideas.
The 49-year-old radio host once described 9-11 as an “inside job,” for instance. He’s claimed on several occasions there are “human-animal hybrids.” He’s suggested the chemicals in our waters were turning “the freaking frogs gay.” He supports the legitimacy of the New World Order conspiracy theory and the deep state in Washington. He’s called global warming a hoax. He opposes mandatory vaccination, He’s even claimed former First Lady Michelle Obama may secretly be transgender.
Does he really believe all of this?
Some people have always assumed this. Then again, during Jones’s 2017 custody battle with now ex-wife Kelly, his lawyer, Randall Wilhite, actually said he was “playing a character. He is a performance artist.” That could have been a planned line to protect his client from further repercussions in a difficult legal fight. But if Wilhite’s assessment is true, then some or all of Jones’s statements aren’t legitimate or factual.
Which ones, exactly? God knows.
What we do know is Jones made some horrific allegations and insinuations about the Dec. 14, 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. He claimed it may have been nothing more than “synthetic,” “manufactured” and “completely fake with actors” during a 2015 radio broadcast. He also described this massacre that killed 20 young children and six adults as “staged” and a “giant hoax.”
Jones was taken to court for spreading this nonsense by Sandy Hook families. He did apologize to them on multiple occasions, but it was far too late to have any effect. He lost his court case, was ordered to pay $1.5 billion USD and filed for personal bankruptcy on Dec. 2, 2022.
That’s why Musk refused to remove the ban against Jones. The tragic loss of his first child due to sudden infant death syndrome in 2002 had a profound effect on him. He obviously couldn’t forget what happened, and didn’t want to forgive the radio host’s previous words and actions.
Carlson’s Dec. 7 interview with Jones played a significant role. It was an interesting discussion that’s received more than 21 million views on X (as of this writing). While Jones had his usual moments of ranting and raving about favourite pet subjects like the deep state, he was also fairly calm and genuinely remorseful about what he had said and done in the past.
This opened many eyes and ears, including Musk’s. He posted a Dec. 9 poll on X which asked, “Reinstate Alex Jones on this platform? Vox Populi, Vox Dei.” Nearly two million people voted, with 70.1 percent saying “yes.” Musk wrote on Dec. 10, “The people have spoken and so it shall be.”
It’s worth mentioning that Musk invited Jones to a Dec. 10 X Spaces conversation. Musk asked Jones specifically about Sandy Hook. Jones apologized and acknowledged the shooting was real and not staged by “crisis actors.” He also said, “I just take calls and interview guests and that I play devil’s advocate. And if that hurt people’s feelings, I apologize.”
Not a perfectly constructed response, but likely good enough for most people.
As I’ve written many times in the past, free speech is the defence of ideas that are either objective or objectionable. We must be willing to support views that appear right to us, and tolerate views that seem wrong. While we’re not required to agree with different viewpoints, we must always defend a person’s right to make his or her views heard in a non-violent manner.
If Jones simply states his opinions on X and doesn’t break the law or call for violence, he’ll be able to use this social media platform to his advantage. Users will always have the ability to either follow, ignore, mute or block Jones. And if someone doesn’t like the fact that Jones was reinstated, that person can leave X at any point and time.
That’s how you properly protect personal liberties and freedoms in a democratic society, including the right to free speech. Kudos to Musk for changing his mind and opening the doors to more ideas and greater discourse.
Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.