In case you forgot, last week America was in a panic over a judge lifting the mask requirement on airplanes. That got put on the back burner quickly as we learned that Elon Musk was purchasing Twitter, and panic over that has absolutely dominated social media this week. The former CEO of Reddit tried to warn us about those “free-speechers,” who “really just want to be able to use racist slurs.” Cenk Uygur couldn’t believe the irony of right-wingers thinking they championed free speech while celebrating a law called “Don’t SAY Gay,” while Robert Reich put in an equally lazy take about the right cheering for free speech for Elon Musk but not for Colin Kaepernick.

Now we have TIME Magazine’s Charlotte Alter to explain that “free speech” means something entirely different now than it did when the First Amendment was ratified. We haven’t read the piece yet, but we’re guessing she’ll say something about the Founders not knowing about “assault weapons” when the Second Amendment was ratified.

Oh, and “free speech” (in scare quotes) is a “tech bro obsession.”

Alter, fantasizing about how she’d spend her $44 billion, writes:

… protecting “free speech,” which Elon Musk has cited as a central reason he agreed to buy Twitter for $44 billion this week, may be worth twice as much as solving America’s homelessness problem, and seven times as much as solving world hunger. It’s worth more (to him, at least) than educating every child in nearly 50 countries, more than the GDP of Serbia, Jordan, or Paraguay.

But “free speech” in the 21st century means something very different than it did in the 18th, when the Founders enshrined it in the Constitution. The right to say what you want without being imprisoned is not the same as the right to broadcast disinformation to millions of people on a corporate platform. This nuance seems to be lost on some techno-wizards who see any restriction as the enemy of innovation.

In a culture that places a premium on achieving the impossible, some tech titans may also see the liberal consensus on acceptable speech as yet another boundary to break. In Silicon Valley, bucking the liberal conventions about harmful speech can seem like the maverick move.

“The liberal consensus,” “the liberal conventions” … not about free speech, but about acceptable speech and harmful speech.

Free speech should be left in the hands of those with the responsibility to wield it properly, like TIME columnists.


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