The old saying goes, if you ask two Jews a question, you will get three opinions. Ask Jews their opinion on magnate Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter and, to a large extent, those on the political Right will say it’s a good thing and those on the political Left will say it’s a bad thing.
As to why Jews and Israelis should care is that Twitter is an extremely powerful weapon that can be used to shape the hearts and minds of people and has seen virulent antisemitic and anti-Israel posts, including by celebrities.
Social media may have had a hand in shifting the goalposts where attacks that were relegated to Israel and Europe came to America, with Jews getting beaten in broad daylight in Manhattan and Los Angeles, not to mention the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Craig Dershowitz, CEO of Artists 4 Israel, said he can’t be certain if Musk taking over is good or bad, but for now he’s optimistic, based on the man’s accomplishments and promises to protect free speech.
“I think he won’t ban people like people have been banned in the past,” Dershowitz told the Magazine. “There’s no way that’s not good. Conceptually, would I like no antisemites and no anti-Israel or people who hate anyone to post online? Of course, but that’s not real life. You either have free speech or you don’t. Free speech is a beautiful rose. But it has a lot of thorns to it.”
The Los Angeles resident added that free speech should not be tainted by politics.
“There might be people on the Right celebrating now because they think their guys will be back on, but who is to say in the future, a left-wing person won’t take over?” he said. “So it shouldn’t be about right wing or left wing, it should be about the freedom of ideas.”
Israeli writer Yossi Klein Halevi tweeted: “Delighted that @elonmusk will be creating a censor-free Twitter. The situation today is that the most vile calumny against Israel and the Jewish people is permitted, while pro-Israel voices are arbitrarily removed. So level the playing field and let us debate.”
Michal Harris, an attorney admitted to practice law in Israel and New York, cited the case of Biden vs Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, in stating that laws often lag in catching up to new technology. She said she’s a free speech advocate but Musk will have difficulty making sure Twitter is a pleasurable experience if large amounts of hate are allowed. She added that it’s a misnomer that anti-Jewish sentiment was carefully monitored under Twitter. She cited a study by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which claims it found that of the major social media companies, only 16% of anti-Jewish comments were acted upon.
She added that Musk’s use of the term “town square” likely indicated that he will push for the most unfettered form of free speech, since the term is reminiscent of the “public forum” of First Amendment jurisprudence. Finally, she mentioned “Section 230,” as it was cited in the Biden vs Knight case, in which it was written that “Congress... has given digital platforms ‘immunity from certain types of suits’ with respect to content they distribute.”
BUT SOME worry a lessening of monitoring could lead to more antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment, which are already rising.
Marketer and Jewish journalist Elad Nehorai said he fears that bigotry like the kind seen on Internet message board 4chan will grow on Twitter.
“I think there is a need for better moderation not less moderation,” he said. “It’s hard to know what will happen because we don’t have a precedent of one person controlling such a powerful company that is private. I don’t think Musk is concerned about any backlash and there is a danger that there will be large amounts of racism, hate and antisemitism being spread to more and more people.”
Veteran political consultant Hank Sheinkopf said he understands people’s concerns but should not buy into the conventional wisdom being preached that this is a play to get former president Donald Trump on Twitter and it will help him win in 2024.
“We have to see what Musk will do,” Sheinkopf said. “There is obviously concern about large amounts of antisemitism online. The question is if things get very ugly, what mechanism is there to retaliate? In terms of Trump, even if he was back on Twitter, it would mean he’d show he’s an effective agitator. It would not mean that it would make him win the presidency. He’s been backing candidates who can’t win and his whole branding is on winning and he lost in 2020.”
Yitz Jordan, an open-source programmer and developer as well as a rapper known as Y-Love, said he wouldn’t advise people to leave Twitter, but should follow the situation and see what happens.
“It’s speculative but if some fears are realized that Twitter becomes a larger 4chan and a cesspool of white nationalists, it’s up to every marginalized group to evaluate how much they need to be on Twitter,” he said. “If you are not in a marginalized group, to what extent do you want to see that? There’s also the question of how you fight back if you can’t remove someone. But if we see huge amounts of hate, I think people will pretty quickly realize that Twitter is neither oxygen nor is it a life necessity and people would leave in droves.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League released a statement calling Musk’s takeover of Twitter “a sad day for democracy.”
“I think it’s a sad day for the ADL,” said Dov Hikind, former Democratic New York State assemblyman and head of Americans Against Antisemitism. “I happen to think it will be a good thing because pro-Jewish voices have been unfairly restricted on Twitter. But we’ll see. Musk hasn’t done anything yet, so to attack him is neither substantive nor is it responsible.”
Technology expert, global lecturer, start-up growth adviser and journalist Hillel Fuld, who lives in Israel, posted his thoughts on Facebook, which include an apparent hypocrisy in who Twitter decided to ban or allow on the site.
“Listen, I’m not going to get political here, but it is absurd and disgraceful that Twitter decided to ban the former president of the United States while letting the supreme leader of Iran remain on the platform as he consistently calls for the destruction of Israel and the annihilation of the Jews. That’s just pure insanity.”
One 40-year-old Miami resident active in Jewish causes and who works in finance, but did not wish to give his name, said Twitter has done a good job in the past in a difficult environment.
“The deep concern is that in the name of ‘free speech’ and to increase profits, Musk will allow for disinformation and speech that advocates violence,” he said.
Jerusalem blogger and email marketing specialist David Andrew Jaffe said “if it’s a step closer to true freedom of speech, I’m a happy person.” He also noted that private companies have a right to monitor speech but due to the power of Twitter, it’s a complex issue.
Ari Lightman, professor of digital marketing at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said he is hoping for the best, but it is complex.
“It’s a tough environment where there is a fire hose of information,” he said. “Some have figured out ways to bypass fact-checkers and even artificial intelligence. We have to wait and see what happens. I think if Musk can come up with algorithms, use artificial intelligence and also have a human element of people monitoring, it could be beneficial but there’s a lot we don’t know yet. I do worry about misinformation, not only when it comes to hate, but when it comes to anti-vax information.”
Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey apologized for the censorship of a New York Post Hunter Biden laptop story that two years later the New York Times verified. While one can never turn back the clock, a Media Research Center poll of Joe Biden voters found that if the voters had known about the Hunter Biden laptop story or seven other stories that got scant coverage, they would not have voted for Biden.
Most interviewed for this article said they were uncertain as to how one could properly verify a news story and mentioned the complication of 51 ex-intelligence officers saying it looked like Russian disinformation, which likely had an impact on suppression.
Jon Loew, CEO of Big Media, a global producer of television projects, said he is optimistic with Musk’s takeover.
“I am looking forward to the Musk version of Twitter,” Loew said. “I’m in favor of complete freedom of speech other than the exceptions the law already provides, such as inciting an immediate and dangerous/lawless situation. I think some of the things Twitter has banned in the past were indeed dangerous speech, from dangerous groups.
“I also believe some content was banned simply because their execs didn’t agree with it. I support the former policy but not the latter.
“Hopefully, Musk will lead the company to have a more balanced and objective policy.” ■
The New York-based writer’s articles on culture have appeared in The Jewish Week, JNS and The Forward.