Prudence Dailey’s Commentary
How a Non-Christian Tech Billionaire Became Good News for Christians
Although I have a Twitter account (@PrudenceDailey -– not very original, I fear), I rarely use it. Little of what I might have to say can be communicated in 280 characters or fewer, and too much of what passes for comment on the site consists of petty invective from anonymous accounts. Three-quarters of people in the UK (and a much higher percentage in older age-groups) do not use the platform at all. Given how easy it is to ignore Twitter altogether, and how trivial much of its content, it would be easy to believe that its very existence is insignificant—or at best, of interest only to the minority who choose to engage with it.
That would be a serious mistake.
Like it or not, Twitter—even more, apparently, than other social media platforms—has impact far beyond its immediate user-base, because of its crucial (even if undeniably often toxic) role in shaping public debate. It is widely used by politicians, journalists, ‘thought leaders’ and the bien-pensant commentariat, and—like it or not—has become today’s ‘public square’. Twitter can and does influence policy, and even the outcome of elections.
If Twitter were genuinely an arena where ideas could be shared freely, this might not matter—but, unfortunately, while that may once have been the case, it has not been so for a long time. The problems come with ‘content moderation’: the removal by Twitter of inappropriate material, and the banning of those who post it. It seems uncontroversial that, for example, child pornography the promotion of terrorism should not be allowed; but the Twitter’s policies go far beyond the exclusion of illegal material to encompass anything they deem to be ‘hate speech’.
Of political donations made by Twitter employees in the run-up to this year’s midterm congressional elections, over 99% were to the Democrats. With such a monolithically left-leaning employee base, it would be a miracle if this worldview did not permeate the platform’s content moderation policies. Indeed, that is exactly what has been happening for years, with conservative voices disproportionately being ‘shadowbanned’ (where the reach of their tweets is surreptitiously restricted, so that fewer people will see them), or banned outright.
Anything that refers to transwomen as men has been especially likely to fall foul of the Twitter censors. Recently, the American conservative Christian satire website, the Babylon Bee, published a tweet naming the transgender US Assistant Health Secretary, Rachel Levine, as their ‘Man of the Year’. As a result, the Bee’s Twitter account was locked unless and until they deleted the ‘offending’ Tweet: since this was not something they were prepared to do, the Babylon Bee remains banned from Twitter. In general, American leftist are not known for their sympathy towards Christianity, and a range of other Christian commentators have complained of shadowbanning.
This matters because the overall leftward drift of Twitter shifts the ‘Overton window’—that is, the range of viewpoints policies considered to be politically acceptable or mainstream—leftwards. The effects of this then spill out beyond Twitter, into the wider discourse.
No wonder, then, that conservatives have celebrated the agreed purchase of Twitter by tech billionaire Elon Musk. Musk is not himself a Christian, but he respects Christianity—and above all, he respects free speech. He has vowed to do away with the censorship of legal speech, and is also talking about making Twitter’s algorithms public (thereby removing the possibility of hidden inbuilt bias). Even though Musk is yet to take the reins, users of the platform have been gleefully tweeting sentiments (‘Can we now agree that Rachel Levine is a man?’) that have would, until very recently, have been deemed inadmissible.
The overall effect of these developments on the public conversation has yet to be seen—but they could prove very significant. There is much in Christianity that runs counter to the prevailing secular narrative, and (whether from ignorance or malice) is routinely characterised by its detractors as ‘hate speech’. The ability to speak into in the marketplace of ideas without fear of censorship is, indeed, a thing to be celebrated.
Miss Dailey is a long serving member of General Synod from Oxford Diocese.