16/05/2022

What's the deal with Elon Musk?

3 min
Elon Musk, chief executive of companies such as SpaceX or Tesla, in a file image.

Elon Musk wants to buy Twitter. He has made an offer and says that he wants to get rid of Twitter bots and anonymous accounts. He also wants to protect free speech and opposes permanent bans, including that of Donald Trump. 

It will disappoint some to hear that Donald Trump has not at any point lost influence over his followers, or power over the Republican Party. What his ban from Twitter has achieved is that we have to do extra work to find out what he says and does.

Like Musk, I don’t think Twitter should have the power to suspend accounts of US Presidents (which Trump still was at the time). I also don’t think it should ban people who use Twitter to exercise their right to express their opinions. That is not to say that people should be able to say anything. People don’t have the right to make death or rape threats, to glorify or to incite violence. People don't have the right to share child pornography. These things are banned, not to limit exercises of free speech, but because there are laws against them. Moreover, the EU condemns hate speech and EU countries have policies to limit it on social media. If Twitter wants to operate in EU countries, it must follow EU regulations. 

So, why do so many people panic over Musk’s acquisition? Some raise the issue of whether something that performs the role of the “public town square” should be owned by private companies or people. We are expected to believe, according to those gripped by this moral panic, that Musk will transform Twitter, that paradigm of kindness, cordiality, and moderation, into a cesspool of verbal aggressiveness, dehumanization and hate speech (I’m being sarcastic).

Funny enough, people don’t worry about Twitter’s current investors, including companies like Blackrock. What is Blackrock? From Wikipedia: “It was reported in December 2018 that BlackRock is the world's largest investor in coal plant developers, holding shares worth $11 billion among 56 coal plant developers. Another report shows that BlackRock owns more oil, gas, and thermal coal reserves than any other investor with total reserves amounting to 9.5 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions – or 30 percent of total energy-related emissions from 2017. Environmental groups including the Sierra Club, and Amazon Watch launched a campaign in September 2018 called BlackRock's Big Problem, claiming that BlackRock is the «biggest driver of climate destruction on the planet», due in part to its refusal to divest from fossil fuel companies”.

Blackrock also invests in China. According to Wikipedia: “In August 2021, BlackRock set up its first mutual fund in China after raising over one billion dollars from 111,000 Chinese investors. BlackRock became the first foreign-owned company allowed by the Chinese government to operate a wholly-owned business in China's mutual fund industry. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, George Soros described BlackRock's initiative in China as a «tragic mistake» that would «damage the national security interests of the U.S. and other democracies». In October 2021, non-profit group Consumers' Research launched an ad campaign criticizing BlackRock's relationship with the Chinese government. In December 2021, it was reported that BlackRock was an investor in two companies that had been blacklisted by the US government for human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang”.

I conclude with a couple of recommendations: For a balanced discussion of social media and public discourse, check the interview of Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist and a professor at NYU, on Yascha Mounk’s Podcast, The Good Fight, on how  public discourse has become so stupid. And if you don't like what someone says on Twitter, block them.