In an open letter to Elon Musk, more than 50 human rights groups, journalists, commentators and think tanks asked the owner of X, formerly Twitter, to “harness” the social media platform to combat “threats to free expression often come at the hands of businesses treating employees unfairly for sharing their views.
In an Aug. 5, 2023, X post, Musk announced, “If you were unfairly treated by your employer due to posting or liking something on this platform, we will fund your legal bill. No limit.”
“Even more insidious is the mounting trend of government suppression of speech with the imposition of serious penalties, and even criminal sanctions, for free expression,” the letter says.
“For a truly comprehensive response to free speech restrictions, our request is that you extend this important offer to cases of state-driven censorship,” the signatories wrote.
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“Free speech is broadly protected by every major human rights treaty; however, in the West, speech increasingly is targeted by ‘hate speech’ laws. In other regions, blasphemy laws target minority groups, sometimes with the sentence of death. These repressive laws are two sides of the same coin – both punish those who speak out against state-approved views,” the letter states.
Highlighted within the letter are three active cases involving individuals who have been punished by their respective governments for their speech with which the government disagrees.
In Finland, a parliamentarian and former government minister is currently awaiting a verdict after having been criminally tried for “hate speech” for a 2019 Bible-verse tweet. She was charged under the Finnish criminal code’s section on “War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity,” carrying a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment.
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A ruling in her case is expected at the end of this month.
In Mexico, former congressman Rodrigo Iván Cortés and sitting congressman Gabriel Quadri have been convicted of “gender-based political violence” and placed on an offenders’ register for X posts. For expressing their views on biological sex, both have been ordered to publish a court-written apology on X every day for 30 days, three times a day, as a form of public humiliation.
At the international level, the European Commission is advancing efforts to make “hate speech” an EU crime, on the same legal level as trafficking and terrorism. Initiatives such as the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation could have significant implications for how governments police speech, especially as European Commission VP Věra Jourová singled out X for “the largest ratio of mis/disinformation posts” in her Sept. 26, 2023, statement.
“Given your commitment to free speech and unrivaled capacity to effect change, we ask that you harness X to make clear that no one should be punished under the law for peaceful expression on X or any platform,” the letter says.
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The signers, which include Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillon; Alliance Defending Freedom International CEO Paul Coleman; Nile Gardiner, a former aide to former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; and academics from Oxford, Cambridge and other universities, are asking Musk to designate funds to support legal action in challenging state-sponsored censorship of views on X, broadening his offer to fund cases in the workplace.
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They also request that he create an intake mechanism on X, whereby individuals can apply for this support, and to Host X Spaces to bring worldwide attention to censorship cases that involve both governments and the workplace.
“If X is to be a free marketplace of ideas, everyone must be able to peacefully debate the issues of our time without fear of government punishment,” the letter says.