Elon Musk’s vision of the Internet is dangerous nonsense | Robert Reich

The Russian people don’t know much about Putin’s war on Ukraine because Putin blocked their access to the truth, replacing propaganda and lies.

Years ago, critics assumed 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 shown how naive this assumption is.

At least the United States has responded to Trump’s lies. Trump was 88 million Twitter followers before Twitter removed him from his platform – just two days after the attack on the Capitol, which he partially provoked with his tweets. (Trump Social media accounts have also been suspended on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitch, and TikTok.)

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

Musk keeps telling his 80 million followers all sorts of things. I don’t agree with many of his positions, but since I tweeted a couple of years ago criticizing him for the way he treats his Tesla workers, he’s blocked me – so I can’t watch or send criticism to his followers via his tweets.

It seems a strange move for a self-described “free-of-speech”. Musk advocates freedom of expression, but in reality it is only about power.

The force forced Musk to buy $2.64 billion from Twitter , making it the largest single shareholder. Last week, Twitter announced that Musk would be joining Twitter’s board of directors, prompting Musk to promise “significant improvements” to the platform.

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

Musk wasn’t going to drop $2.64 billion for nothing. If he is not a member of Twitter’s board of directors, he will not be bound by a “freeze” agreement under which he pledges to purchase no more than 14.9% of Twitter’s shares. Musk now has no limits to how much Twitter shares he can buy. He will buy as much as he needs to have complete control.

What “improvements” is Musk thinking of Twitter? Will he use his Twitter influence to prevent users with tens of millions of followers from banning people who criticize them? I doubt it.

Will Musk use his leverage to let Trump back in? I’m afraid he does.

Musk has long advocated a libertarian vision of an “uncontrolled” Internet. This vision is dangerous nonsense. There is no such animal, and there never will be.

Someone has to decide the algorithms on each platform – how they are designed, how they evolve, what they reveal and what they hide. Musk has enough power and money to give quietly Himself This kind of control over Twitter.

Musk talks about freedom of expression, but his real strength is freedom of expression Reach – Reaching 80 million Twitter followers without accountability to anyone (including critics like me) – and enough money to buy a seat on Twitter’s board of directors.

Musk never believed that strength comes from responsibility. He was unfazed when his tweets caused real suffering. During that A long written history On Twitter, he threatened journalists and tweeted reckless things.

In March 2020, he wrote on Twitter that children are “basically immune” from Covid. He paid with the cryptocurrencies he invested in. When a college student started a Twitter account to track Musk’s private jet, Musk tried and failed to buy it, before he stopped him.

Musk was chased by the Securities and Exchange Commission after he tweeted that he had funding to take Tesla private, in clear violation of the law. Musk paid a fine and agreed to allow lawyers to examine sensitive tweets in the future, But he tried to reverse this demand.

he is As has been public contempt for the Securities and Exchange Commission, Tweeting at some point that the letter “E” stands for “Elon”. (You can guess what the letters “S” and “C” stand for). By the way, how does the SEC pursue 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. To a large extent, they are.

Musk has enough wealth that legal penalties are nothing more than slaps on the wrist, and enough power to control one of the most important ways the public receives news right now. Think about it: After years of law-breaking tweets, Musk has secured a seat on Twitter’s board of directors (and may now be negotiating more influence).

Musk says he wants to “liberate” the Internet. But what he really aims for is to make it less accountable than it is now, when it’s often impossible to discover who makes the decisions about how algorithms are designed, who fills social media with lies, who poisons our minds with pseudo-science and propaganda, and who decides which versions of Events are spreading quickly and which ones are kept under wraps.

Make no mistake: It’s not about freedom. It is about strength.

In Musk’s vision of Twitter and the Internet, the magician will be behind the curtain – projecting onto the world’s screen a false image of a brave new world that empowers all.

Indeed, this world will be dominated by the richest and most powerful people in the world, who will not be accountable to anyone for facts, truth, science, or the common good.

This is a dream catch. And Trump. And Putin. And the dream of every dictator, strongman, demagogue and modern thief baron on Earth. For the rest of us, it’s going to be a gritty new nightmare.