Don Rogers: Atwitter over Elon Musk
Let me explain my issue with Elon Musk buying Twitter.
First, what it’s not:
It’s not from a concern about political speech or the free expression of views on public issues.
It’s not about the inevitable falsehoods or deliberate exaggerations, even lies, that pass for political discourse on social media. Our free society is set up to absorb most of that. Libel and slander laws serve as rough bumpers when lies get personal, as well as other litigation for lies that otherwise damage.
And no, it’s not about wanting the libs to hog all the space and squeeze out the conservatives, or the other way around.
It’s not so much even Elon Musk himself.
Here’s another brilliant and quirky tycoon for our age, apparently gifted and cursed with Asperger’s. His companies do great and interesting work at the forefront of bringing us swiftly to the future: electric self-driving vehicles, house batteries, artificial intelligence, cybernetics, underground transportation, private space flight. All cool stuff.
It’s not about a private person buying Twitter or anything like that. Social media companies are not the public utilities that pointy-heads want to make of them. Twitter and the others are businesses designed to sell you stuff while collecting everything you share with the intent of selling you more stuff. That better world they wax on about is theirs, not yours.
Any garbage company under contract with a city does cleaner, more honest work than social media. Oh, there are treasures to pick out of the heap: postings about a grandson’s Little League game, a high school friend’s latest triumph, sadness over a loss, a sighting of a mountain lion in the neighborhood.
But that’s not what we’re talking about here, what there is to be concerned about.
Twitter is a side gig, a diversion for Musk, I think. He likes playing in the space and sees the platform as fun to own and shape, like, say, a baseball team. This is his equivalent of you or I renovating a car, throwing some clay, digging into the family genealogy, collecting first editions, taking up day trading.
Twitter also beckons as a business opportunity, underperforming at only 15th globally in total users.
Mark Jamison, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, points out all the liberal voices on Twitter — 69% of the messaging lines up with them Dems. And only 10% of users produce 92% of the tweets. More opportunity.
The ex-president who was banned for life generated a lot of heat and attention with and for Twitter not so long ago. In the past week or so, he failed in court to overturn that ban imposed in January 2021 and went on how he’d never go back to Twitter even with Musk at the helm.
Besides, the former and possibly future president has started his own social media outlet named something oxymoronic as a Russian agency: Truth Social. That would have to play through before thinking again of Twitter.
He might feel compelled to come back, though, at Musk’s invitation, to pursue another favorite hobby in 2024.
Ah, the rich and their playthings.
My real concern has to do with the dark side: Personal bullying. Harassment of vulnerable people. Defaming other tweeters. Playing fast and loose with public company disclosure rules and issuing misleading announcements for personal gain. Pushing debunked COVID-19 falsities.
Bad enough this stuff happens at all. Worse when these are the buyer’s own tweets.
I get that free speech absolutism has a lot of appeal, long as you don’t think much about what that means for bots, Russian and other disinformation agents, conspiracy nuts, overt racists, people and groups prone to violence, and the effect on children, teens, gullible old goats.
The usual lazy arguments about letting the usual political lies back into the space hardly matter. At least not to me. It’s not much of a democratic republic if it can be taken down by tweet.
No, it’s these other genuine evils that bother me.
This week, though, Musk seemed to have begun thinking this through a bit more. Just as the First Amendment doesn’t really mean we each just get to say anything anytime in an absolute sense, neither does he mean he will run Twitter as Tweets Amok.
Beneath the headline-making remarks at a car show about freeing Trump from his lifetime ban, Musk said he’d still approve lifetime bans, just not as often, and Twitter would moderate speech that’s “destructive to the world” or “wrong and bad.”
He also cautioned that he doesn’t yet own Twitter, and may never own Twitter.
So he may only be toying with everyone, after all. Yanking all our chains once again.
It sounds like sale or not, Twitter tomorrow will be pretty much the same as Twitter today, and the ex-president likely as not would find himself banned again under Musk, even under that (even) looser rein.
The Who sang about this a long time ago: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Suddenly, my concern seems hardly worth a tweet, now that I think about it.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299
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