Elon Musk Wages a New Kind of War for Free Speech Rights

Elon Musk and a legal team representation

Elon Musk’s social media platform, known as X, is fulfilling its commitment to support users facing punitive measures for their online statements, as it came to the aid of a University of Illinois student embroiled in disciplinary proceedings due to his social media activity.

According to a letter obtained by the Financial Times, Juan David Campolargo, a student at the University of Illinois, was accused in early November of violating the school’s student code of conduct. The accusation stemmed from a post on Musk’s X platform in which Campolargo promoted an event as an open gathering with free food, despite it being a closed conference.

Campolargo now faces the risk of being placed on conduct probation and losing his on-campus housing as a result of the disciplinary action, as detailed in the letter.

In response to the situation, attorneys from Schaerr Jaffe, representing Campolargo “with the support of X Corp,” penned a letter on November 14. In it, they warned the university that failing to “reverse the preliminary finding” against the student would “result in a violation of his rights.” The letter also asserted that if the university upheld the charges, Campolargo could have a claim against the institution for violating his First Amendment rights.

Elon Musk, who has openly declared himself a “free speech absolutist,” had previously pledged to cover the legal expenses and initiate lawsuits on behalf of X users who believed they had been treated unfairly due to their posts or interactions on the platform. Musk’s commitment to defending X users comes despite his efforts to control the platform’s costs.

Musk’s promise was clearly articulated when he tweeted, “We will do whatever it takes to support your right to free speech!” on X. He added that there would be “no limit” to their efforts, stating, “We won’t just sue, it will be extremely loud, and we will go after the boards of directors of the companies too.”

In recent months, Musk has intensified his support for free speech on X, even loosening the platform’s moderation policies. While this has been applauded by many of his followers and like-minded tech figures, it has also led to concerns among advertisers who fear their content may appear alongside toxic content. The controversy surrounding Musk’s stance on free speech escalated when he appeared to agree with an antisemitic theory online.

Critics of Musk have pointed out that he has occasionally fired X staffers who criticized him, raising questions about his commitment to free speech within the platform.

According to the letter from Schaerr Jaffe, Campolargo used his X account to share information about open events on the university campus that offered free food. However, after a complaint was filed, the university charged him with violations of the student code of conduct for allegedly “inciting, aiding, or encouraging others to engage in a behavior which violates the Student Code” and for theft, alleging that he had promoted and attended a private conference from which he took food.

Schaerr Jaffe, in their letter, alleged that there were procedural irregularities in the university’s handling of Campolargo’s case, that additional evidence had not been considered, and that the sanctions imposed were inappropriate.

The University of Illinois responded by stating that it was not familiar with the letter or allegations. They added that they could not comment on specific students due to federal privacy laws, and their student discipline process was confidential.

Schaerr Jaffe confirmed sending the letter earlier in the week and acknowledged receiving assistance from X but declined to provide further comments.

According to Campolargo’s website, he is an engineering student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who has delivered several TEDx talks and self-published a book on lithium.

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