Will Elon Musk's Twitter Be Better for Feminists?
A platform with free speech would be an improvement for women, but it’s not a long term solution for feminist organizing
On Monday, Twitter announced that they would be accepting a buyout bid from Tesla CEO Elon Musk. The world's richest man has been a long-time user and critic of the platform. In the past few months, Musk has repeatedly called on Twitter to implement stronger free speech protections, open-source the algorithm, and implement feature changes to drive the social media site forward.
Proponents of free speech spent the day cheering the buyout as a win for free speech. In a press release accompanying the announcement, Musk reiterated his focus on free speech as he gains control of Twitter. "Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated," said Musk.
Like many other groups accused of “wrongthink,” gender-critical feminists have been subject to regular and harsh censorship on Twitter in recent years. In the wake of Musk’s hostile takeover, we’re left wondering—will Elon Musk’s Twitter be a better place for feminists now?
Why feminists are getting banned from Twitter
Tweets that acknowledge biological sex are regularly flagged as "hateful content" by moderators invested in upholding transgender ideology.
Many prominent feminists like Meghan Murphy, Posie Parker (Kelly-Jay Kean), and Dr. Holly Lawford-Smith have been banned from Twitter for statements that affirm the biological reality of sex. Others have faced suspension for posting such "hateful content" like a picture of a placenta, stating medical facts, or saying they will “not kowtow to predatory men.” These women are regularly targeted with mass reporting campaigns and, eventually, someone on Twitter’s moderation team caves.
Meghan Murphy was banned in 2018 for tweeting “Yeeeah it’s him.” She wrote about her suspension:
“Twitter is a boys club. A boys club that protects its friends above its users, even if those friends present a potential threat to women. Indeed, the company’s Terms of Service seem to exist to protect their own, and as a means to censor and silence those who speak the truth in ways they don’t like. Women who are working to hold men accountable and companies like Twitter accountable are swiftly punished, whereas men’s violent or misogynist behaviour is ignored.”
Gender-critical feminists are not alone in experiencing censorship due to their political views. However, the sheer ridiculousness of the content that is deemed “hateful” when spoken by women shows the extremes that activist employees at Twitter will go to in order to silence opposition to transgender ideology.
Musk may be more sympathetic to gender critical feminists
Beyond his general free-speech stance, Musk has expressed some support for gender-critical thought in the past. In 2020, he tweeted multiple times mocking the modern liberal obsessed with pronouns as an important identity marker.
There’s good reason to believe that a Twitter owned by Elon Musk will be less quick to punish women for stating basic biological facts or resisting gender ideologues.
However, it’s unclear how exactly Musk plans to reimagine content moderation. A truly “free speech” platform would allow all legal content. This would include things commonly considered “hate speech,” but would prevent things such as threats of violence. Musk’s new vision of a freer Twitter will likely take time to roll out. Even then, it’s likely to run into the practical real-world consequences of truly hosting a free speech platform—which may be quite ugly.
There have been hopeful rumors of Musk reinstating prominent banned accounts, but neither Twitter nor Musk himself have actually committed to any action on this front.
Social media controlled by men will always be a risk to feminists
Although Musk may be currently aligned with feminists on one issue, the fact remains that women can not rely on male-controlled platforms to protect our rights. We can’t simply trust men like Zuckerberg or Musk to make decisions about our speech, and we can’t just hand over control of our communication because they promote “free speech.”
Platforms are centralized in a way that make them vulnerable to political manipulation and censorship. This is particularly dangerous for feminist movements when those in charge are invested in upholding male political, social, or economic dominance. Even if Musk is truly, deeply genuine in his desire for a free speech platform (and I do believe he is), will the financial and social systems that make Twitter possible truly allow it to become a place for radical feminist consciousness when this consciousness would threaten its very foundation?
Centralized platforms are not a long-term solution for feminists in search of freedom
Is Twitter going to be better for feminists under Elon Musk?
Probably a bit. But it's not a long-term solution.
The problem with Twitter goes deeper than which man currently heads it. The problem is in the dominance of centralized, proprietary platforms which act as de facto public squares without any real control by the people. It’s the fact our entire communication network is vulnerable to the whims of individual companies and the men that control them.
In 2021, I wrote for the feminist anthology Spinning and Weaving about the depth of this problem:
“Control over the internet is intricately tied up in the control over means of production. Women, as a class, do not generally control the means of production. Until that changes, we have to accept that pure female separatism and freedom from male control online is nearly impossible. This does not mean that resistance is futile, though. It means that rather than focus on separatist purity, building spaces for women online, creating systems of communication we can rely on, and becoming independent from male-controlled Big Tech is a matter of building resilience.”
Rather than jumping from platform to platform (all of which suffer from the same problems of centralized male control), the long-term solution for feminists is building a decentralized network of communication that eliminates single points of failure. Spinster, a federated Twitter alternative I launched in 2018 is one example of this. However, this is just the beginning. Spinster has encouraged multiple feminist refugees to learn how to set up their own federated platforms.
The #1 thing Elon Musk could do to make Twitter better for feminists
Ironically, the best thing that Elon Musk could do to Twitter for feminists may not be about free speech at all. Musk has promised to open source the Twitter algorithm, a move that would be groundbreaking in helping to create alternatives. If we want to dream really big, maybe Musk will even see through Twitter’s Blue Sky project—a vision to implement decentralized communication features on Twitter similar to those that already exist on the Fediverse.
If Musk really wants to make Twitter the public square he claims, free speech is a nice start. But the real test will be if he is willing to truly open Twitter up to the public by allowing people not on Twitter to interact with its users from the comfort of their own platform. When platforms are decentralized, we don't have to trust one single leader to uphold our free speech. We have the ability to go somewhere else if they don't, or create an entirely new space without losing access to the larger network.
This has been a hard sell for centralized platforms in the past because they rely on the network effect to maintain a monopoly over user data and advertising dollars. But Musk has already started floating alternative funding models, like a subscription-based program. This may help move the platform away from reliance on centralized control to sustain itself and open up the possibility of alternative models like decentralization. If anyone is crazy enough to do that, it may just be Elon Musk.
Cover photo by Steve Jurvetson
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