Elon Musk has purchased Twitter for $44 billion. What on earth does that mean? As someone who has barely used Twitter at all, it’s impossible for me to say. What I can say is that I think Musk is a bit of a nutjob — undeniably brilliant, intriguing, brash. And rich, filthy rich. With a net worth of an estimated $219 billion (Forbes), he’s the richest man in the world.
He is the CEO and product architect of Tesla and founder, CEO, and chief engineer at SpaceX, to name his two best-known ventures. And now that he’s purchased Twitter, he intends to take it private. And do what?
In a press release Musk explained:
Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.
I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spambots, and authenticating all humans. Twitter has tremendous potential — I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it.
… his stated goal with Twitter is to foster a “public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive” — goals he intends to accomplish by tossing the platform’s moderation guidelines, open-sourcing its moderation and suggestion algorithms, and removing spambots.
I find the whole thing very disquieting. It seems if you have enough money, you can build or buy anything — cars, space ships, cars in space, or a massive chunk of the internet. And now that Twitter is his toy, what will he do with it? What’s his idea of “free speech” and “authenticating all humans”? Is he going to open Twitter up again to all comers, making it “broadly inclusive”? Will he restore access for the banned ex-president who, along with his followers, has poisoned so many minds via social media? Will he restore access for those who speak against science, climate change, vaccines, and masks? Will he allow conspiracy theories to fly unchecked?
Maybe Musk has the money and the intent to make or remake Twitter into a legitimate public forum where a free exchange of ideas can take place. Or maybe his idea of free speech is the fallacy of giving equal time to opposing ideas that are not, in fact, equal, e.g., equal time to democracy and fascism, equal time to both science and science deniers, equal time to both legitimate election results and conspiracy theories. It’s called “false equivalence,” and it’s a common tactic (or mistake) on both social media and mainstream media.
Great wealth has and does put great power in the hands of the few … or the one.
And the more it happens, the more concerned I become.