Once I was requested to write down concerning the $44bn buy of Twitter by Elon Musk – the South Africa-born CEO of Tesla and SpaceX and richest particular person on the planet – I used to be torn. I’ve written about Musk on numerous events prior to now, like when Time journal chosen him as its “2021 Particular person of the 12 months” even whereas acknowledging his monitor report – which contains quite a few allegations of atrociously sexist and racist situations in his US factories, in addition to violations of native pandemic rules to maintain employees working and Twitter threats towards workers wishing to unionise.
Time mused that “the huge expanse of human distress can appear an afterthought to a person along with his eyes on Mars”, as if apathy for the human situation is someway a romantic, Particular person of the 12 months-type attribute. Earthly distress has in the meantime solely been exacerbated by the truth that we now have to listen to about Elon Musk day in and day trip – which is why I used to be at first hesitant to contribute to the din.
As Columbia College professor Liza Featherstone remarked on Fb within the aftermath of the Twitter deal: “Individuals maintain nattering on a couple of sure uninteresting particular person, who purchased an uninteresting social media platform, and all stated particular person needs is this sort of consideration.”
She continued: “It’s very enabling, nearly as if the world realized nothing from Trump!”
That stated, I do have a couple of extra issues to say.
Let’s begin with the idea of “free speech”, which Musk has relentlessly invoked to justify his newest conquest: “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital city sq. the place issues important to the way forward for humanity are debated.”
By no means thoughts that live-tweeting one’s bowel actions, one in every of Musk’s most popular pastimes, would appear to be considerably lower than important to civilisation – or that anybody who bribes a university child $5,000 to delete a Twitter account can’t actually self-identify as a proponent of free speech. The account in query is @ElonJet, the place school freshman Jack Sweeney tracks Musk’s non-public jet utilising publicly out there knowledge; when Sweeney refused the bribe, Musk blocked him – the identical mature response that has been utilized to numerous Twitter customers Musk has deemed to be undeserving of the identical proper to free speech with which the cosmos has endowed Musk.
Along with blocking, Musk’s Twitter repertoire additionally contains maniacally lashing out at politicians and others – usually in fully irrelevant and sexually inappropriate methods – for doing issues like suggesting that billionaires ought to pay revenue taxes. And with Musk now poised to develop into the god of Twitter, the coverage of “free speech for me however not for you” will presumably solely soar to new cosmic heights. Already, his lewd tweets are broadly alleged to have straight spurred “rampant sexual harassment” at Tesla services.
His modus operandi however, Musk tweeted on April 25: “I hope that even my worst critics stay on Twitter, as a result of that’s what free speech means.” This despatched the Musk fan membership right into a tizzy of adulation, with Florida Republican congressional candidate Lavern Spicer tweeting in response: “An African American proprietor of the most important social media firm on earth. That is historic.” She went even additional on Fb: “Elon Musk shopping for Twitter is the twenty first century model of Lincoln liberating the slaves.”
It’s historic, certainly, for a white billionaire from the nation that invented apartheid to attain the label of “African American”. Then once more, something is feasible within the so-called “land of the free” – the place “democracy” implies that a single particular person has $44bn to purchase a social media platform whereas a ton of oldsters don’t have any meals or a spot to sleep.
The Twitter takeover was additionally celebrated internationally by the likes of El Salvador’s megalomaniac-in-chief Nayib Bukele, who, like Trump, prefers to control by social media, and who produced numerous congratulatory tweets with festive emojis. Bukele went on to tweet a Reuters article about new Twitter “hate speech considerations” raised by human rights teams, and added the next encouraging remark in English: “Hahaha go Elon!”
This is identical Bukele, after all, who’s at present presiding over a home “state of emergency” that has served because the pretext for the indefinite suspension of human rights, civil liberties, and all that great things. A further legislation spontaneously enacted in early April threatens “anybody who shares details about gangs with as much as 15 years in jail”, as The New York Occasions notes – a transfer that successfully criminalises the dialogue of Salvadoran actuality. A lot without cost speech.
However again to Musk’s imaginative and prescient of “free speech” that’s in the end not free – and I’m not simply speaking concerning the $44bn price ticket. He speaks of the perfect “functioning democracy” during which Twitter serves because the “digital city sq.” – and but the Muskian view of democracy is one during which he and he alone is in control of the universe, whether or not or not the lowly plenty realise their nice fortune in having acquired such an overlord.
Ultimately, Musk is hardly an aberration from the grotesque course of capitalism within the US, the place the tyranny of the elite and widespread “human distress” – to applicable the phrases of Time journal – is marketed as a functioning democracy. And whereas Musk has pledged to “make Twitter higher than ever by enhancing the product with new options … and authenticating all people”, none of that is very human in any respect.
The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.