Why Elon Musk’s Digital Town Square Model for Twitter Remains Elusive

When Elon Musk acquired Twitter in October, he sent a prominent virtue signal.  Musk indicated that under his ownership, Twitter would be “a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner.” 

This notion was quickly picked up in numerous glowing tweets, then amplified by media worldwide.  But we have learned in the ensuing months that there never was and never will be a digital town square.

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Two Teachable First Amendment Moments

Since Election Day 2022, we have experienced two extraordinary teachable moments about the First Amendment. Those all along the political spectrum should review them as a crash-course refresher for the clear red line that our nation’s Founding Fathers envisioned when they crafted this bedrock of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

Elon Musk, Twitter’s new owner, has decided to lift a nearly three-year ban on using the popular social media platform that had been imposed on Donald J. Trump during the final days of his presidency. Musk indicated this reversal represented “the will of the people,” based on a quick, unscientific online poll he posted that indicated a slim majority approved of former president Trump being allowed to use Twitter again to reach the 88 million people who had been his followers at the time of his banishment.

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Fordham’s Take on Freedom of Speech

An important piece in the Wall Street Journal, profiling the president of a student free-speech group called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, spotlights the challenges facing free speech on the nation’s college campuses.

A recent incident at Fordham University, mentioned in the article, provides a good example.  There, the university’s College Republicans invited conservative columnist Ann Coulter to speak on campus.  Student groups opposed to Coulter and her politics protested the upcoming event, and on Nov. 9 the university’s president, Rev. Joseph McShane, S.J., weighed in on the matter in a letter addressed to the student body, faculty, and alumni:

To say that I am disappointed with the judgment and maturity of the College Republicans, however, would be a tremendous understatement.  There are many people who can speak to the conservative point of view with integrity and conviction, but Ms. Coulter is not among them.  Her rhetoric is often hateful and needlessly provocative – more heat than light – and her message is aimed squarely at the darker side of our nature.  

In the same letter, Father McShane said that the university would not stop Coulter’s appearance owing “to the Jesuit tradition of fearless and robust engagement.”  This tradition was apparently of scant comfort to the College Republicans, however.  Faced with the attacks issuing from students, faculty, and the university president, the CRs disinvited Coulter and apologized for having invited her in the first place, a development that McShane quickly and lavishly praised:

Late yesterday, Fordham received word that the College Republicans, a student club at the university, has rescinded its lecture invitation to Ann Coulter.

Allow me to give credit where credit is due: the leadership of the College Republicans acted quickly, took responsibility for their decisions, and expressed their regrets sincerely and eloquently.  Most gratifying, I believe, is that they framed their decision in light of Fordham’s mission and values.  There can be no finer testament to the value of a Fordham education and the caliber of our students.

Yesterday I wrote that the College Republicans provided Fordham with a test of its character.  They, the University community, and our extended Fordham family passed the test with flying colors, engaging in impassioned but overwhelmingly civil debate on politics, academic freedom, and freedom of speech.

Somewhere Thomas Jefferson weeps, while George Orwell is smiling.


The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.