>>>Because conservatives agree with Musk about the importance of making social media a welcoming place for transphobic jokes, they haven’t been nearly as quick to condemn him telling the Financial Times that Taiwan ought to become a Beijing-ruled Special Administrative Region. But when it comes to a random celebrity like John Cena, conservatives understand the basic dynamic perfectly well — money talks.<<<

Matt's being too polite here. Republicans are deeply unserious and/or profoundly duplicitous about China policy. Pretty much everything the GOP does on China is intended for domestic political audiences only. Strengthening America to compete in the new Cold War would mean things like:

*Addressing US demographic decline via immigration (Republicans want to do just the opposite, and push our growth levels down to PRC levels).

*Competing for the world's best and brightest to strengthen America's STEM sector (Republicans want to do just the opposite, and make it harder for talented foreigners to get work permits, green cards or student visas).

*Leading on Pacific Rim economic integration (Republicans have become the more protectionist of our two parties, and gave Obama essentially zero support on TPP, despite the obvious boost joining this group would have given to US efforts to contest the PRC's growing influence in this critical region).

*Bolstering US democratic norms (something cold warriors in the 1950s and 1960s understood: a nontrivial degree of support for the Civil Rights movement was generated by the need to compete for global hearts and minds, and to demonstrate the superiority of liberal democracy over totalitarianism). Republicans won't even disavow insurrectionists.

*Readying the country for its next, inevitable rendez-vous with a pandemic. (Republicans have mostly gone full anti-vax nutter).

I could also cite climate change, infrastructure and various other areas where the US should play a leading role and/or demonstrate robust state capacity. The PRC is a formidable adversary: surely a lot tougher opponent that the USSR ever was. Republicans aren't serious about any of it, though admittedly they do a bang up job hurling racist invective (Kung Flu, etc) on Twitter, so at least there's that!

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Matt overrates the cultural importance of Twitter. It has a tenth as many users as FB. The vast majority of users get a really shitty experience: tweeting is about as likely to engage others as sitting alone and screaming at your TV. Twitter has become a forum for elites to spar with each other in public view and that’s not nothing, but it isn’t so different from dueling press releases or cable news appearances, and it could all be transferred to FB pretty easily. Bottom line, Twitter is much less integrated into normal peoples’ lives than FB or Instagram and there isn’t an obvious path for it to broadly engage normal people.

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"Foreign dictatorships are bad" is a really underrated normie take. It seems like a lot of commentators on foreign affairs believe either a) "foreign dictatorships can't be blamed for their actions because everything is the fault of those countries who did colonialism from 1492-1965", or b) the vaguely Burkean "every country gets the government the people want regardless of whether they got to vote for it, so the Chinese government has just as much of a popular mandate as the American one". (You see this second one from both racists who want to use the Chinese government's atrocities to attack Chinese culture and weird right-wing edgelords who oppose democracy in general.)

Call me naïve, but personally I think legitimacy only derives from consent of the governed (and failure to topple the government in a revolution does not count as consent), and it makes a moral difference whether a government came to power through a free and fair election or not.

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"Because conservatives agree with Musk about the importance of making social media a welcoming place for transphobic jokes..."

I guess it is good to have an occasional reminder of what Matt thinks about conservatives, even if some of us appreciate his writings. To reduce criticism of Twitter's moderation practices to wanting to make transphobic jokes is insulting.

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As someone who is decidedly pro free speech - this was a good article, because I really hadn’t considered this point. Most coverage seems to imply that Musk ownership over Twitter would definitely increase free speech and then opinion on whether or not that’s a good or bad thing splits on ideological lines.

My question however would be whether Twitter actually is an important platform on the scale that MY and other MSM suggest (comparing it’s importance to flagship MSM outlets like the NYT etc). I don’t use Twitter, but it seems mainly like a place that produces significant amounts of useless drama and bad takes. It also seems like the overinflated importance of Twitter stems directly from the fact that it’s biggest users are all Blue check marks who work in media/journalism and wrote the articles about its importance.

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Oct 17, 2022·edited Oct 17, 2022

I would ask about this in the mailbag, but given Matt's contempt for the legal system, I don't see much hope he'd answer it, so I'll just float it here instead:

As everyone knows, private actors are generally not subject to the First Amendment. There is, however, an exception to that rule: where a private actor has been deputized or otherwise directed by a state actor to take actions that violate someone's First Amendment rights, the private actor can be held liable along with the state actor at least where the state actor is a political entity subject to 42 U.S.C. 1983 (I'd need to research what actual case law there is on applying this doctrine to the federal government, but I believe the consensus is that it would).

This historically has no relevance to the PRC's coercion of American businesses and organizations because there's no facial constitutional problem with a foreign government deputizing or directing private actors to violate Americans' First Amendment rights. However, what if 42 U.S.C. 1983 was amended to add "Foreign Nation" to the existing list of political entities that could be sued under the statute ("any State or Territory or the District of Columbia")? This would obviously be creating an exception to the general rule of foreign sovereign immunity in the American courts, but it also seems like it would be really awkward for members of Congress to explain why foreign nations should have the power to violate the constitutional rights of people inside the US's borders. This would also then open up the possibility of actions by residents of the US versus private businesses to the extent those businesses adopt policies inside the US under pressure from the PRC that are intended to limit Americans' free speech.

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This is a boring and predictable take, not what I expect from Matt usually. He could probably do a takedown of this on his new podcast if he was into meta self-reflection.

China is a rising superpower and America is the only real counter weight that exists in the world.

I think the intertwining of American business interests and Chinese state interests is ultimately a good thing for the world. It, more than any hawkish political behavior or posturing is what will prevent two massive state powers from going to war.

Unlike in Russia, it would be extremely hard for the US to disentangle American interests in China, but this runs in the other direction as well. China really doesn’t want wholesale banning of Chinese produced goods. The microprocessor kerfluffle shows just how deep the pain can run in a single industry.

We don’t know what Musk will do with Twitter. We do know that he purports to want twitter because he sees an organization with enormous influence being largely led and manipulated by one political side as a bad thing.

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Pretty amazing to watch a new hawkish foreign policy "consensus" emerge overnight, with the convenient side effect of attacking a right-ish pro free speech icon + someone who isn't pro unions (witness Biden avoiding mentioning him when he talks about other electric car companies!).

Very convenient for those who dislike Musk for other reasons.

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The most curious thing to me about the Elon/Twitter saga is that no one ever mentions the fact that currently the key financial stakeholders in Twitter (and lots of tech) are Wahhabist princes from the Gulf. There are lots of criticisms of Musk, but is he actually more 'conservative' in any meaningful way than them?

Which isn't to say I don't agree with the larger point. US business relationships with China has major implications for America's culture of free expression. They aren't our friends and decades of trying to make change that through integration into the world economy has been a huge policy failure. I'm just not sure Elon Musk is really the right way into that conversation. If he wasn't triggering the libs on social media I doubt he'd be anyone's go to example on the subject.

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There’s been a strange vibe among the very online lefties who tend to populate Twitter. There was a period where criticism of China seemed to code as right wing to many of them, I think because Trump was being so critical of China.

Then during COVID, it was as if holding China accountable at all was letting Trump off the hook, and people didn’t want to hear it.

It’s been really strange to see people demand moral stances from their employers on the issue of the day, while their employers do business in Xinjiang, and otherwise cover for China.

The current unwillingness to bring up China when attacking Musk feels like an extension of these things.

Apologies for being all over the place, I’m supposed to be working at the moment. Ethan Strauss wrote an excellent “it’s ok to be mad at China/why isn’t it ok?” piece that gets at a lot of these things, for those who can read it.


I’d love to post a few pertinent paragraphs from it, but don’t want to do that to Strauss.

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Not sure I follow what the FTC would investigate here. They have law enforcement authority over antitrust violations and "unfair and deceptive acts and practices". Censoring things for the Chinese government isn't an antitrust violation, it doesn't have anything to do with competition.

Maybe if you really squint you could say it is deceptive because Twitter is held out as unbiased but secretly acts in a pro-China way. But the fact you wrote this article kind of gives it away. The standards for this authority are also very tight, as a reasonable consumer must not be able to avoid the practice (in the statute). And in any case the suspicion that might happen is not something you could block the deal over, it would actually need to happen.

Notwithstanding the dreams of current leadership, the FTC isn't the national reviewer of whether we like people's business plans. It actually needs to prove a violation of the law.

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With the recent restrictions of chip exports to China, we’re dropping the pretense of making nice, so why not extend to other sectors? If selling to China induces companies to self-censor, why not just ban media companies (esp movie studios) from selling to China? I want to see a Bond movie with PRC bad-guys.

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Twitter might not be that important to the average person, but I just listened to Rachel Maddow on Ezra Klein's podcast and they both agreed that Trump's use of Twitter is what allowed him to drive the media narrative and coverage about himself. I'm not sure much has changed for the members of the media on Twitter.

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Business leaders in politics should come in for a lot more skepticism generally. One idea in particular that needs reconsideration, the desire to have business leaders run for political office. I think this idea has died an unceremonious death on the left with the growth of more explicitly anti-capitalist rhetoric from the fringe since 2009 and the election of Trump in 2016. But it's a good point for Republicans to internalize as well. As an example of a Democrat with uncomfortably close ties to foreign powers, I think Mike Bloomberg is the best recent case study. His 88% ownership Bloomberg LP (which had not insignificant financial stakes in China) combined with his weakness on Chinese political leadership should have been disqualifying. Serious writers talked about it in opinion pieces at the time, but there wasn't much of a popular outcry over this issue in particular.

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In hindsight, it seems odd that China has not exerted any pressure on major platforms to moderate all anti-China content away from their non-domestic audiences...but historically the fact that all these platforms are blocked from day 1 in China means it’s much less of an issue for China.

The closest analogy is how China treated Google, and in that case they only demanded Google moderate search results for domestic audiences, not the rest of the world. Ultimately, Google gave up on the Chinese market and shelved the plan to build a censored version of Google.


Additionally, its not clear to me that Twitter isn’t worth more to China as is (banned domestically, but utilized by hawkish Chinese dignitaries for Chinese propaganda and marketing) than in the way you describe. It’s pretty clear that any move to pressure Musk to ban (or shadowban) content China doesn’t like would be found out immediately and potentially lead to the death of the platform, and thus cause it to lose any value the Chinese get from it now as a diplomatic tool in which their own government officials dunk feverishly on other nations. Seems much easier to just pick and choose battles with individuals who have something to lose in China, as historically that has worked.

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Oct 17, 2022·edited Oct 17, 2022

I appreciate Matt’s admission that he doesn’t know exactly how Musk’s ownership of Twitter would affect its business model. I don’t understand that either.

Business concerns might force him to steer the company in a pro-authoritarian, anti-Lama anti-Xinjiang direction, but what would that involve? I read and reread the article, but I don’t see.

Is the idea that Twitter algorithms would be programmed to find and delete tweets including the word “Tiananmen?” Or are we thinking of a malevolent Chinese-style army of censors?

It’s certainly not good for a pro-China businessman to own a major American media company, but what precisely should we be afraid of? It’s early and I’m still half-asleep, so help me out with some speculation.

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