Elon Musk’s recently appointed X (formerly Twitter) CEO Linda Yaccarino set off a firestorm on Thursday after emphasizing to potential advertisers that a censorship regime would be in place.
Touting her “autonomy” from Musk, Yaccarino stated that “lawful but awful” speech will be throttled, labeling the strategy as “freedom of speech, not reach.” Naturally, those who suffered under the censorship tactics of X’s old regime weren’t exactly thrilled with Yaccarino’s statements nor her enthusiasm in delivering them.
X CEO Linda Yaccarino: "Lawful but awful" content will be hidden.
— Ben Swann (@BenSwann_) August 10, 2023
X CEO Linda Yaccarino: "we've introduced a new policy called… 'freedom of speech, not reach'… if you're going to post something that is lawful but it's awful you get labelled… you get deamplified."
X is now officially and explicitly a censorship platform.
— Paul Mitchell (@PaulMitchell_AB) August 10, 2023
YACCARINO: Staggering, they take it down, and that reducing that hateful content from being seen, is one of the best examples of how X is committed to encouraging healthy behavior online. And today, I can confidently sit in front of you and say that 99.9 percent of all posted impressions are healthy.
REPORTER: How do you define healthy? Is porn healthy, are conspiracy theories healthy?
YACCARINO: You know, it goes back to my points about our success with freedom of speech, not reach, and if it’s lawful but it’s awful, it’s extraordinarily difficult for you to see it.
REPORTER: But how many millions of people follow Kanye West? Lawful but awful, and he’s allowed back on.
YACCARINO: You know, Kanye, who hasn’t rejoined the platform yet, but is planning to do so will operate within the very specific policies that we have established, that we are clear on, that everyone who’s watching this or listening on Spaces can access themselves. And we have an extraordinary team of people who are overseeing, hands-on keyboards, monitoring all day every day to make sure that 99.9 percent of impressions remain at that number.
But we also have to remember what’s at the core of free expression. You might not agree with what one is saying. We want to make it a healthy debate and discourse, but free expression at its core will really only be able to survive when someone you don’t agree with says something you don’t agree with it. And what a great place we would live in if we were able to return to a healthy, constructive discourse amongst people we don’t agree with.
There are certainly some things to be concerned with within Yaccarino’s comments, but can we just pause and awe at the reporter still not thinking it’s good enough? Even with the new X CEO basically saying they are going to censor “awful” content in a way to promote a “healthy” discourse, the reporter is still incensed at the idea that “conspiracy theories” and Kanye West could be allowed on the platform. What an indictment of the press.
But I digress, I think there are a few ways to read Yaccarino, and how one responds is really about how charitable one wants to be toward her. X is a profit-driven endeavor. That means the company needs advertisers to survive. It also needs those advertisers to pay users via its new ad revenue-sharing feature. Given that, there will always be some limits as to what content can be shared and monetized on the platform.
The problem comes in how “awful” is defined. If X is simply de-monetizing and throttling porn and calls for genocide, that is understandable and will have no impact on the daily political discussions that have become such a mainstay on the site. Where things could go off the rails is if X begins to censor and de-monetize content based on certain topics that are deemed out of bounds, whether that be climate change, transgenderism, or something else.
That is the biggest threat to free speech on the internet right now. Few people are going to object to throttling calls for violence in order to appease advertisers. There have to be some boundaries or X will simply go bankrupt. On the other hand, this is a slippery slope, and Yaccarino had better tie herself to a tree at the top.