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Free Speech! New Benchmark - It costs ONLY USD 44 billion! Tee-hee!

TIOL - COB( WEB) - 813
APRIL 28, 2022

By Shailendra Kumar, Founder Editor

FOR free speech or right to freedom of expression, the present time is indeed the gilded age for humanity! Web 2.0, the era of social media, is abuzz with billions of tweets, Facebook posts and YouTube videos on daily basis. And the same is unctuously digested by the electrical circuits in our brain which receives them from our 'twittering' electronic gadgets in our hand - making repeated light tremulous sounds! Tee-hee! The traditional 'Via Bhatinda' channel to react to an issue or to express one's thought is history now! Billions have got addicted to splash their social media walls with comments, likes, thumbs-down, latest selfies, professional achievements pics and family photographs - no matter how curmudgeonly one's mood may be! The social media has turned into a haven for pettifoggers as well! Going by the number of posts or tweets in a day for certain popular accounts, it appears that the wall-clock of history has ticked full circle as the number of posts now hinges on the strength of one's knuckles like the 'Viking' in Scandinavia! We now literally live in 'physital' world and the social media is our Pied Piper!

However, the global space for free speech has rapidly been shrivelling in the past one decade. Post-COVID-19, the pace has quickened with the governments across the world pocketing sweeping powers to impose lockdown and torpedo vaccine-related news being tagged as 'fake'! With the geographical canvas for democracy itself shrinking in large part of the world, the support for freedom of speech has also been faltering measurably! With many democracies getting disillusioned and opting for autocracy, speaking out has become a dangerous trait! Even in mature democracies, the space for free speech has been ebbing, especially among the young. It is more starkly striking in the American universities where, one survey reveals, over 60% students admitted that their toxic campus climate prevented them from speaking out what they believed in!

Though the governments are aware that without the contest of new ideas, the world would be timorous and ignorant but their pugilistic kneecaps have grown tighter, nonetheless! One of the common tools they often invoke against hulking odds is to shut down internet. One African country furtively nobbled social media to wall off protests against its Presidential conspiracy to swim in powers till 2033! If one does digital-necropsy of the Trump era in the US, fabulists had a fabulous time with the President himself 'faking' all sorts of news! In fact, he richly contributed to a global climate of sneer for independent journalism! He coined a popular catchphrase for critical reports - 'fake news'!

To stymie free speech and twist journalist around one's little finger, autocrats as well as elected politicians often use a tool-kit to trouble or harm them. The most pedestrian tool is to activate a torrent of threats and followed by outright killing by non-state agents a la Khashoggi episode in Turkey! Journalists are also 'doxxed' with the photographs of their family members being circulated! In some countries, they cultivate media mughals to cork scandalous news and if need be, nudge corporate titans to buy out independent media outlet or feisty websites. Largish advertising kitty is another tool to appease friendly media houses which necessarily oblige their political 'godfathers' by guillotining exposes! Intolerance against free speech has come to keep ahead of the curve. For instance, any debate on the transgender issue can be more fatal than a bomb blast in UK. The 'Yellow Vest' protesters in France used to thrash TV journalists - an impact of 'fake news'!

The tales are more hair-raising if one talks about autocracies like Russia and China. In fact, China has earned global disrepute for specialising in designing pockets of prolonged silence. It has developed state-patronised censorious tool-kits which are heavily imported by the African and Latin American autocrats and the Chinese dab hands are invited to train the local personnel in shock-and-awe tactics - a promised cemetery for free speech! Aha! Russia has left behind even China - quite brilliantly! It first took over all loud-mouth and independent channels of free speech and legislated such a gagging law that drove away all foreign media from Russia! Wow! Putin has ensured that the cemetery itself is dead! No cacophony! No kerfuffle over any state action! It is only mille-feuille time with lights dancing above the Kremlin and the Russian White House!

In this terrifyingly nebulous backdrop of global ground realities buffeting the freedom of speech, the gazillionaire, space-and-electric-car freak, Elon Musk, has decided to get his boot muddy by largest leveraged buy-out of Twitter for USD 44 billion! A showstopper deal! But, for what? Certainly not for profit if one goes by his TED talk! Endlessly innovative and unfathomably eccentric, he wants to make Twitter 'Public Town Square'! He is a self-styled free speech absolutist! Dabbling into absolutism in today's world where States across the globe are bracing up to pounce on social media limitless discretions to de-platform one's account is akin to showing red rags to a bull! Mr Musk is also widely referred to as a 'megalomaniac' character! Twitter has always been a GameStop for him! There are many instances pointing fingers at his run like a hairy goat on Twitter! Once he tweeted about "taking Tesla private at USD 420 & funding secured"! SEC launched investigation and the legal tug-of-war continues even today! The parties had once reached a settlement but unpredictable, whimsical Musk walked back! The probe shadows him and may prove shattering experience! He has often been impish and child-like for his over 86 million followers on Twitter!

Being the richest man on this planet with USD 258 billion wealth, he dreams to colonise Mars and make humans an intra-planetary species! He is a serious electric car and rocket maker. His company SpaceX keeps ferrying crew to the International Space Station! Twitter is perhaps just a private toy for him to go atwitter if his sleep cycle ditches him in the wee hours! Being the richest man he can certainly have fun with his self-made rules for his own game! But Twitter may turn out to be a 'poison pill' if China tomorrow asks him to quarantine certain tweets against Mr Xi Jinping and since he runs his gigafactory there, he will have no choice to say NO (Twitter received 43000 requests to put content to gallows in 2021)! He wants to loosen grip over content management which means more venting space for reckless users! If it is going to be so, what happens to the famous 'harm principle' proposed by John Stuart Mill. The common limitations to his absolutism are - Libel, Slander, Sedition, Incitement, dignity, right to privacy, trade secrets, national security, classified information and perjury! Having fancy dream is one trait but getting drowned in the ocean of litigation is a real poison pill he should be bracing for! I just hope that his fetish does not drive him into a ditch and prove to be his nemesis! May God save this champagne-sipping libertarian from legal sound and fury and eye-rolls from the political class - Democrats have serious reservation about the prevailing interpretation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution and also Section 230 which saves platforms from liabilities of content posted by users under the law of tort!