Elon Musk has lashed out on Twitter after facing criticism for censoring content.
It came after the social media platform agreed to limit tweets on the eve of Turkey’s presidential election, where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was facing a challenge from the Republican People’s Party’s Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
It’s not clear exactly which content or users were impacted by the move, though the suggestion is the government was pressuring Twitter to censor its opposition.
Mr Musk has insisted that unless some form of censorship was undertaken, Twitter would have been shut down entirely for those in Turkey.
There has been backlash over the move, and the controversial billionaire took particular umbrage at a tweet by US journalist Matt Yglesias.
“The Turkish government asked Twitter to censor its opponents right before an election and @elonmusk complied — should generate some interesting Twitter Files reporting,” Yglesias wrote.
In response, Mr Musk fumed: “Did your brain fall out of your head, Yglesias? The choice is have Twitter throttled in its entirety or limit access to some tweets. Which one do you want?”
Mr Musk’s response to Yglesias inflamed an even greater backlash, with critics contrasting his stance to his long-professed support for freedom of speech.
Entrepreneur Jimmy Wales, a co-founder of Wikipedia, said the site “stood strong for our principles” when it was challenged by Turkey’s government, and won a fight in the nation’s Supreme Court.
“This is what it means to treat freedom of expression as a principle rather than a slogan,” Mr Wales said.
Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief at non-profit news site The Intercept, said Mr Musk “is either the world’s most sanctimonious hypocrite, coward and fraud or actually wants to censor the opposition to help Erdogan, or both”.
“It takes less than two seconds to see that Musk’s framework – ‘I’m a free speech absolutist … unless anybody threatens to shut off Twitter access, in which case, I’m for or against whatever they want,’ – is laughably unworkable,” said Derek Thompson, a podcast host and writer for The Atlantic.
Kara Swisher, a veteran journalist covering the technology sector, said: “Being a persistent quisling to authoritarian governments upon which your other businesses are dependent has a very Vichy France vibe.”
She said there “is only one brain falling out of one head and that’s Elon’s”, going on to label him “Mr Free-Speech-Until-It-Impacts-My-Money-Shaker”.
“The fact that Elon Musk thinks it’s obvious that it’s better to publish only what dictators want than not to publish at all tells you everything you need to know about Elon Musk,” said Christopher Orr, an opinion editor at The New York Times.
Adding to the critique was the fact that Twitter had faced similar pressure from Erdogan in 2014. On that occasion the company resisted, and was temporarily banned. The move proved disastrous for Erdogan and was overturned in Turkey’s court system.
“This is par for the course for all internet companies – we are just going to be clear that it’s happening, unlike the others,” Mr Musk insisted, trying to justify the censorship.
He also said he would reveal exactly what the Turkish government asked of Twitter, however he still had not done that as of Sunday night Australian time.
“We could post what the government in Turkey sent us. Will do.”
While there was clearly backlash over the censorship, there were also some supporters.
One Twitter user wrote: “I agree with this move by Twitter because of this very reason. My one request would be for a public announcement regarding the reasons for the block. Transparency would go a long way.”
While another commented: “Matty wants you to do nothing and in return Turkish people have zero access to Twitter when government censors it in response. Real galaxy brain stuff … Pragmatism = keep as much access to information as you can within the confines of their system of government.”
A third was against the move, writing: “If you were actually complying in a request for censorship to help the government win the election then clearly you should not have complied. Pretty much no matter what.”
While another pointed out: “Actually, I would choose ‘throttled totally’, if I really cared about freedom of speech. At some point we must make a stand. You said you’d maintain free speech even if it meant losing money – why aren’t you acting on that?”
At the time of writing, the polls had yet to close in Turkey’s election. Erdogan is expected to face a serious threat to his retention of power.