On April 25th Twitter’s board of directors unanimously accepted a $44 billion offer from Elon Musk to buy the social media giant. This follows Musk being critical of the running of the platform, over the past few years. An example of this is his opposition to the banning of Donald Trump after the former US president was permanently suspended due to the risk of further incitement of violence in the light of the January 6th Capitol attack.
Not long after the purchase, Musk released this statement on the platform he just bought:
The tweet lays out what Musk thinks Twitter should be, and how he would achieve that Twitter.
Appealing to “free speech”, the youth and right-wingers
The statement is very agreeable, with (I assume) most people agreeing to the principles of free speech and democracy, open source algorithms, getting rid of spam bots and authenticating human accounts.
Although these are noble goals, we cannot forget what Elon Musk really is, not just some wacky, quirky businessman, who is “one of us” (like he portrays himself to be), but the richest man in the world, born into wealth in apartheid South Africa. However, ironically, he does try to come off as “a man of the people”. The first example of that is the statement above, which as I said, on the face of it, is broadly agreeable.
Musk appeals to Gen Z and the youth in general through his heavy participation in internet culture, something many other uber-wealthy businessmen stay away from, or don’t participate in as much as Musk. Musk’s “shitposts” on Twitter and his appearance on Pewdiepie’s “Meme Review” are examples of this appeal to be more relatable to the youth.
He also appeals to the right-wingers in America due to things like, being on the side of Trump when he was banned on Twitter, being anti-lockdown and this snarky reply to a tweet from left-wing senator, Bernie Sanders:
(and being pretty dismissive of progressives in that country in general)
… and most American right-wingers do think he is “their guy”, with the biggest right-wing politicians, social media stars, and TV hosts, all strongly supporting him.
All this talk that Musk solely owning Twitter will make it a bastion of free speech and buying into his appeals to certain groups of people, is looking at it the wrong way.
The real problem here
First of all, in his statement Musk said that “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy” and that Twitter was the “digital town square where matters vital to humanity are debated”. Again, fine, what he is saying is true. However, it does not follow that, a single individual should have sole ownership over the entire platform. That would actually be actively anti-democratic and makes a mockery of free speech.
How is it anti-democratic, well: If anti-democratic is: “opposed or hostile to the theories or policies of democracy”, what would a democratic Twitter look like? This is an easy question to answer: One that does what a majority of all users of Twitter want. Democracy is at its core: control by the people over the organisations, states, etc. that they participate or live in. Twitter now is the exact opposite of this democracy, or as I said, anti-democratic, controlled and owned by a single person at the top.
To those who will say, “Yes, he could manipulate the algorithm in his favour, but we will be able to see that with the algorithms open source he is proposing” – I would say, first of all, he owns the god damn thing, he can lie about what he wants to do to it, politicians have done that forever, and they’re voted in, whereas Musk simply acquired this power through his vast wealth! Secondly, the algorithms used in social media are incredibly complex and the average person would still have no idea how their data is used, shared, etc.
The deal to buy Twitter makes a mockery of free speech.
If you want to be the controller, the person with the power to determine what does and doesn’t get communicated and how, you need to be super rich. We should all be the controllers. What has been playing out over the past few years has been a game between billionaires, all of the consequences of which we will have to put up with. We all live with the communication, we can or can’t engage in, and how it is distributed, depending on what the billionaires decide is best for us. No democracy, free speech, nor accountability, just power that goes with immense wealth.
On the topic of free speech, democracy and Musk I don’t anyone think should take a word he says on those subjects seriously after reading this:
Elon Musk is right. “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy” and Twitter is the “digital town square where matters vital to humanity are debated”. However, that doesn’t mean he (or any individual or small group of people) should own the platform.
In fact, even more dystopian, is Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to turn Facebook into a 3 dimensional metaverse. Billions of us living in a digital world, in which humanity would live, work, play and laugh. A world that Zuckerberg himself owns and in which we are his digital serfs.
Free speech and democracy under a dictatorship is oxymoronic. All of these social media platforms ought to be free and open. No decision about limiting them should be made other than by a democratic process that could be and should be worked out.