Why Elon Musk Couldn't Save Free Speech

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A video about Elon Musk, Twitter, Free Speech, the “Marketplace of Ideas” and Content Moderation on Social Media.


00:00 Introduction: Elon Musk is (Not) Buying Twitter
06:49 1. The Problem with Free Speech
19:53 Curiosity Stream & Nebula
22:17 2. The Origins of the Public Sphere (or, the “Marketplace of Ideas”)
33:25 3. When Debate Went Online
43:42 4. Censorship & Social Media
58:19 5. Why Elon Would Have Failed

You can find an annotated bibliography for this video on my website, here:

*Some Copy about the Video for the YouTube Algorithm*

In this month’s video, we’re looking at Elon Musk’s attempted (and now seemingly aborted) purchase of Twitter.

In April 2022, Elon Musk offered to buy Twitter for $44 billion. His stated goals were two-fold: Firstly, to rid the social media network of bots and other fake accounts. Secondly, to ensure Twitter was doing all it could to protect “free speech” on its service.

Over the past six months, Musk has joined the legions of activists on the political right who bemoan what they see as an overly-stringent approach to content moderation (or what they usually describe as “censorship”) on Twitter. They claim that this is stifling public discourse and taking away users’ rights to freedom of speech and expression.

But what would a Muskian Twitter actually have looked like? Could he have seen-through his plans for securing “free speech” on the platform? Or is it all a little bit more complicated than that.

Join me as we take a dive into the ways in which discussions around freedom of speech tend to fail, the history of the so-called “marketplace of ideas” and what all of this might mean for how we look back on the attempt by Elon Musk to buy Twitter.

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Thanks for watching!

Select footage courtesy of Getty

#ElonMusk #Twitter #FreeSpeech


  1. Hey, happy you're making videos again. I love watching your long drawn out essays. I sometimes don't agree with some points you make, but your take is always interesting to hear. It's a real pleasure to watch!

  2. I normally like this guy's videos, but the inaccuracies and, intentional or not, outright BS regarding the advent of the public voice renders this video a complete waste of time. Once you've established a false premise as the foundation of your argument, the argument itself becomes meaningless.

    Google hasn't even been a search engine for more than a decade while Page and Brin haven't had anything to do with it for even longer.
    Dividing people into ever smaller and more isolated groups is an idea that goes back about as long as recorded history. It i show the tiny powerful minority has always maintained that power over the overwhelming majority.

    The ruling class has been fighting against The Enlightenment since The Enlightenment.

  3. the cult of musk is really nuts. making a comment on a video which referenced him only in passing flooded me with screeching muck fanboys. It's unbelieveable.

  4. 40:20 JarJar is a tragic figure, naïve, clumsy goofball who becomes a war hero when his planet is invaded, inadvertently becomes a politician and is manipulated into supporting the rise of an evil dictator. I can only imagine that he's one of the first supporters of the nascent Rebel Alliance.

  5. Freedom of speech is a simplistically tautological phrase, anyone who wastes a hour trying to redefine it is wanting.
    You completely drivel ed a diatribe full to the gun ells of political biase bereft of even the slightest glimpse of any convincing truth of your perfidious version of free speech.
    Musk and farage are remarkable people who have change the world yet you levitate yourself above them in your fantasy world deriding their actions.
    The only people who fear free speech are those that fear the truth.

  6. One thing there is missing from the video is how Western-centric is the policy of GAFA. The example of Myanmar is probably more about the fact that Facebook moderation team for Western countries/languages is orders of magnitude bigger (per user) than that of other countries/languages. So, yeah, probably they didn't want to do anything about that particular topic, but also they probably had no manpower to really enforce anything there. Despite AI developments, there is a requirement of a lot of human work to achieve any kind of effective moderation.

  7. When you asked "I hope it was worth your time" at the end of the video I was like.

    "-Worth it? I think I need a smoke."

  8. When you asked "I hope it was worth your time" at the end of the video I was like.

    "-Worth it? I think I need a smoke."

  9. I first and foremost watch for the educational content of course, but I have to say I am LOVING all the snark you're putting in your videos lately. When you referred to Elon Musk as "the world's oldest teenager" I had to pause the video because and get ahold of myself because I was laughing so hard.

  10. "Kermit has only felt an inner pain within his scrawny, froggy body"

    What more needs be said?

  11. Another great video! Minor critique — only the elements of the video that are part of the essay are included in the subtitles. The small "out-of-character" moments (usually between chapters) should also be subtitled for accessibility.

  12. The ultra rich of old, biuld hospitals schools housing for the poor, gifted grand to artists and students, The ultra rich of now do what? suck even the governments money?

  13. Did anyone else Google "what do baby squirrels taste like" while watching this video? Apparently, they taste "like a subtler version of rabbit, with some saying the flavour resembles a cross between rabbit and chicken – with a hint of nuts."

  14. So is Nicholas your middle name or does your dead twin brother who died under mysterious circumstances have a different family name than you?

  15. I've been thinking, do we want public ownership of our town hall while under our current capitalist right wing regime? Obviously, the thought of our based needs being owned collectively sounds good, but have you seen the news? Every time we try to move the needle left, our lame ass democratic party cannot stick the landing, and progressives are such a minority they have no voice. Republicans have so successfully blocked every piece of humane legislature, and have pushed through nothing but tax breaks for the rich, and culture war bullshit bullshit bills, that it makes even surface level left-leaning corporations look like the DSA.

    So with the way things stand today, would we even want Twitter to be publicly owned, where it can get ravaged by the right wing court system? Idk, and I'd like to hear someone else's (hopefully more optimistic) opinions.

  16. My favorite part of this was after it all blew over, everyone ‘knew’ that he wasn’t going to make the deal. like right, if you all ‘knew’ why did, not one person say their opinion prior, after all that’s what everyone does and was doing.

  17. … musk was the one who pumped and dumped twitters stock value through those tweets and public statements

  18. Very interesting video again! I would have loved to see a deeper dive into the complexities of freedom of speech as a concept and how certain demagogues abuse the notion. But that could easily fill another video essay of this length, I guess.

  19. he isn't going to buy it. first he doesn't even have the funds… but fanboys… well they are what they are…

  20. Tom Nicholas is missing the main point of free speech which is that in order to work things out you have to be able to say what you actually think. When conversations about say “trans rights” become riddled with things you can not say we start to see things like the 4000% increase in trans people in the US over the past decade and chemically and surgically castrate children and it becomes difficult to even talk about because you get banned on social media for speaking up.

  21. What the f*** was that Daily Wire ad on this video!? I'm so sick of seeing transphobia everywhere

  22. This is illuminating. Especially for people who have had to catch up midway with the evolution of the internet and internet communities. The globalization of internet access and conversations around internet penetration in developing countries elide this very important conversation around evolution. And, of course, the role political events like the Arab spring played in shaping how we now exist online.

  23. Oh my goose! So many ads! Ads within ads; ads for curiosity ads for evony ads for ebony again after you stop talking about curiosity. How am I supposed tonunderstand the through line of this content if you act like such a selllout!?

  24. I agree. The value of the Marketplace of Ideas needs to be re-evaluated in the age of the Internet. The old definition of "the best idea sticks around" is no longer true. If one person out of 5.000 has an idea and only two other people agree with it then under the old definition of the Marketplace of Ideas the idea would die. Now the person can just share it only and if it finds three adherents in 5.000 places there are now 15.000 people agreeing with that idea, which by the definition of the Marketplace of Ideas makes the idea viable.

  25. people that complain about algorithms often don't understand how algorithms are made. despite them usually claiming they have evidence to support their argument but then just showing their analytics which isnt really proof