Elon Musk’s vision for the internet is dangerous nonsense | Robert Reich

The Russian people know little about Putin’s war on Ukraine because Putin blocked their access to the truth, replacing propaganda and lies.

Years ago, experts believed that the Internet would usher in a new era of democracy, giving everyone access to the truth. But dictators like Putin and demagogues like Trump have demonstrated how naive that assumption is.

At least the United States responded to Trump’s lies. Trump had 88 million Twitter followers before Twitter pulled him from its platform — just two days after the attack on Capitol Hill, which he instigated, in part, with his tweets. (Trump’s social media accounts have also been suspended on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitch and TikTok.)

These measures were necessary to protect American democracy. But Elon Musk – the richest man in the world, with 80 million Twitter followers – was not happy. Musk tweeted that US tech companies should not act “as the de facto arbiter of free speech”.

Musk continues to tell all kinds of things to his 80 million followers. I don’t agree with many of his positions, but ever since I posted a tweet two years ago criticizing him for the way he treated his Tesla employees, he’s blocked me – so I don’t can’t see or post reviews of his tweets to his followers.

This seems like an odd move for someone who describes himself as a “free speech absolutist”. Musk advocates free speech, but really, it’s all about power.

Power coerced Musk into buying $2.64 billion worth of Twitter stock, making him the largest individual shareholder. Last week, Twitter announced that Musk would join Twitter’s board, prompting Musk to promise “meaningful improvements” to the platform.

On Sunday evening, however, it was announced that Musk do not join the Twitter board. No reason was given, but it’s probably part of a bargaining kabuki dance.

Musk wouldn’t have paid $2.64 billion for nothing. Although he is not a member of Twitter’s board of directors, he is not bound by a “standstill” agreement in which he has agreed not to buy more than 14.9% of the shares of Twitter. Twitter. Musk is no longer limited in how much Twitter stock he can buy. He will buy as much as he needs to take full control.

What “improvements” does Musk have in mind for Twitter? Will he use his influence on Twitter to prevent users with tens of millions of followers from blocking people who criticize them? I doubt.

Will Musk use his influence to let Trump back? I’m afraid he will.

Musk has long advocated a libertarian view of an “uncontrolled” internet. This vision is dangerous trash. Such an animal does not exist and there never will be.

Someone has to decide each platform’s algorithms – how they are designed, how they evolve, what they reveal and what they hide. Musk has enough power and money to quietly give himself this kind of control on Twitter.

Musk talks about free speech, but his real power is the freedom to reach — reaching 80 million Twitter followers without reporting to anyone (including critics like me) — and enough money to buy himself a seat on Twitter’s board of directors.

Musk never believed that power rhymes with responsibility. He was unbothered when his tweets caused him real pain. During his long and storied history with Twitter, he threatened journalists and tweeted reckless things.

In March 2020, he tweeted that children were “essentially immune” to Covid. He pushed the cryptocurrencies he invested in. When a student opened a Twitter account to follow Musk’s private plane, Musk tried unsuccessfully to buy it, before blocking it.

The Securities and Exchange Commission sued Musk after he tweeted he had funds to take Tesla private, a clear violation of the law. Musk paid a fine and agreed to let lawyers vet future sensitive tweets, but he tried to overturn that requirement.

He also openly scorned the SEC, at one point tweeting that the “E” stands for “Elon’s.” (You can guess what the “S” and “C” stand for.) By the way, how is the SEC attacking Musk’s ability to tweet now that he owns Twitter?

Billionaires like Musk have shown time and time again that they consider themselves above the law. And to a large extent, they are.

Musk has enough wealth to make legal sanctions a slap on the wrist, and enough power to control one of the most important ways the public now gets information. Think about it: After years of posting tweets that circumvent the law, Musk has secured a seat on Twitter’s board (and is likely negotiating for even more clout).

Musk says he wants to “liberate” the internet. But what he’s really aiming for is to make him even less accountable than he is now, when it’s often impossible to find out who’s making the decisions on algorithm design, who’s filling social media of lies, which poisons our minds with pseudo-science and propaganda, and which decides which versions of events go viral and which remain secret.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not about freedom. It’s a question of power.

In Musk’s vision of Twitter and the internet, he would be the wizard behind the curtain – projecting onto the world’s screen a false image of a brave new world empowering everyone.

In reality, this world would be dominated by the richest and most powerful people in the world, who would be answerable to no one for facts, truth, science, or the common good.

It’s Musk’s dream. And Trump’s. And Putin’s. And the dream of every modern day dictator, strongman, demagogue and robber baron on Earth. For the rest of us, it would be another brave nightmare.

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