Commentary

'Freedom Of Speech, But Not Freedom Of Reach'

Elon Musk has declared platform war on Apple, asserting that the consumer technology marketer's decision to discontinue ads on Twitter somehow violates "free speech."

In a minor tweetstorm overnight, Musk also asserted Apple has threatened to remove Twitter's app from the App Store and simultaneously characterized Apple's 30% commission on revenues generated by app developers distributing through the App Store as a secret "internet tax."

That prompted followers to fact-check Musk, noting that Apple disclosed that policy when it launched the App Store in 2008 and it is a well-known and common practice used by other app distribution platforms worldwide.

All of the assertions are ironic, given that Apple is a private company exercising its free-speech rights to advertise where and when it wants, and to do business with whomever it wants -- or not.

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They also are ironic because one of Musk's first decisions since taking control of Twitter was to create a policy of "freedom of speech, not freedom of reach," including throttling the reach of users it deems inappropriate, "deboosting" and "demonetizing" them.

Kind of like what Apple is doing to Twitter.

Other ironies abound, but perhaps the biggest of them all is that Musk keeps asserting that Twitter is trying to save free speech, even as he has been trying to charge users $8 a month in order to speak it, and definitely to generate any reach from it.

There's so much conflation in Musk's logic that I don't know were to begin, but let's start with the fact that what Apple is actually doing is exercising its commercial free speech as part of a marketplace based on on free enterprise.

He just doesn't like the fact that it is being targeted at him, because he has made what many believe to be reckless decisions that have spurred big advertisers and their agencies to hit pause on Twitter advertising.

So I guess Musk is implying that those companies -- Apple, which spends $100 million a year advertising on Twitter, other top Twitter advertisers, or agency holding companies including Havas, Interpublic, Omnicom, Publicis and WPP -- are also somehow harming free speech, by exercising theirs?

Musk would have a more legitimate claim if Apple actually were to ban Twitter from the App Store -- but not for free-speech reasons, just free-marketplace ones.

But as a developer who has had firsthand experience with Apple refusing to distribute his app, I can tell you its policies and decision-making are those of a private company, not a constitutional right. Just like Twitter's are.

Musk can characterize that as "censorship," but it's just a free marketplace.

7 comments about "'Freedom Of Speech, But Not Freedom Of Reach'".
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  1. Clark Celmayster from Endeavor, November 29, 2022 at 4:36 p.m.

    Had Apple been owned by a conservative and threatenened the same to Woke leftist Twitter I can only imagine the outrage that would have ensued. Once again what is good for the goose is never good for the leftist media ganders....

  2. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, November 29, 2022 at 5:29 p.m.

    @Clark Celmayster: Apple's not owned by a Conservative? (I think it's owned by the public.)

    Why does everything have to be about conservatives vs. another side? Can't it sometimes just be about a company trying to do the right thing for all its stakeholders and not underwrite something that's bad for them. You know, society.

  3. Jim Meyer from Golden Square, November 30, 2022 at 2:10 p.m.

    Without comment on the politics of Musk or Mandese, let's just clarify: here in America, the "free" in "free speech" means "uncensored," not "without cost." And Joe knows it -- or he wouldn't turn around in the same article and defend Apple's rights of "commercial free speech," which apparently involve taking a 30% vig on revenue. Hardly evenhanded journalism. Irony indeed, Joe. 

  4. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, November 30, 2022 at 2:21 p.m.

    @Jim Meyer: Thanks for weighing in, but I fear I haven't done a good enough job of explaining my point.

    Apple, or any company choosing not to distribute someone's speech (or in the case of Musk's other kvetch, advertise with their company), is not "censorship," nor is it a violation of anyone's freedom of speech under U.S. laws, including the one enshrined in the Constitution.

    Freedom of Speech does not mean people have a constitutional right to have their speech carried or redistributed by others, which was the irony I was pointing out about Musk's new "Freedom of Speech, But Not Freedom Of Reach" policy, too.

    Private media companies are free to decide what kind of content and by whom they publish and/or redistribute, and it is not censorship if they do not. It's just a free marketplace doing what free markets do: act freely.

    Censorship relates to governments or society censoring someone's speech.

    https://www.uscourts.gov/about-federal-courts/educational-resources/about-educational-outreach/activity-resources/what-does

    There are other laws in America that protect the right of individuals or companies to get a fair shake from companies that dominate marketplaces, but it's not a free speech issue, it's an antitrust one.

  5. Stuart Jay from jay consulting, November 30, 2022 at 3:52 p.m.

    So Elon is saying that like his friend Donny, He has the right to free speech, which includes what you want to say and where you want to say it, but no one else does. Sound like Elon wants to be a dictator, not a free-market business person! 

  6. Jim Meyer from Golden Square replied, December 2, 2022 at 12:53 p.m.

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Joe. I appreciated it. I was responding to this section of your article, which conflates the two meanings of "free" to snarky effect: "Other ironies abound, but perhaps the biggest of them all is that Musk keeps asserting that Twitter is trying to save free speech, even as he has been trying to charge users $8 a month in order to speak it, and definitely to generate any reach from it." It's clear you don't like Elon Musk, and that's fair. But you have better arguments than that. Have a good weekend! 

  7. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, December 2, 2022 at 1:23 p.m.

    @Jim Meyer: I do like and admire Elon Musk, just not as an arbiter of free speech or his tolerance for racists and anti-Semites. I like what he has done with PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX, etc. I'm not sure about what he's doing with Neuralink. And so far, I'm not a fan of what he's been doing with Twitter.

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