Elon Musk: a problem masquerading as a solution

Legally, all American women or people of color, or both, who have ever been spoken to in a meeting, or who have been denied a book contract, or who have not been hired to speak their minds on television, are protected. First Amendment. The constitutional protection of the word in itself does not create a society in which the opportunity to be heard is really great, free and fairly distributed.

“Freedom for the wolves often meant death for the sheep,” Mr. Berlin said. once said. This is a point often overlooked by Americans. The government – or large centralized authority – is one of the threats to freedom, but not the only one. When it comes to speaking, so many people are often held back from speaking not by censorship, but by the lack of a platform. Social media, including Twitter, came along and promised to change that. But as it turned into a cesspool of hatred and harassment against women and people of color in particular, it began to offer a pitiful deal: you can freely say what you want, but your life can be relentlessly painful if you dare.

The “censorship” that Mr. Musk performatively deplores consists of efforts to correct these very real problems of harassment and abuse. Twitter took modest but wildly inadequate Steps to improve security on the platform. He admitted that he had a problem. She recognized positive freedom of speech—the creation of a safe and non-life-destroying environment for airing thoughts. And that’s what Mr. Musk and his ilk seem to hate.

That’s why his deal to buy Twitter is so dangerous. In recent years, there has been progress towards positive free speech – a real job of giving everyone, indeed everyone, a more meaningful reason to speak up. Mr. Musk obviously wants to shut it down. Instead, in a moment of proto-fascism among the political right, his priority seems to be to stop the flow of bile, bigotry, intimidation and disinformation.

The country already has a very real prospect, starting at noon January 20, 2025 on a descent into racist authoritarianism and a long retreat from liberal democracy. If your idea of ​​what the country needs right now is less suppression of hate and lies, and more right-wing pissed off, that’s it.

The plutocrats have already rigged the economy. This is just the first step. Then you take some of the spoils and reinvest it to buy even more political influence, so political inequality can help keep gaping economic disparities alive. You buy media or social media platforms and thus can help change the discourse in your favor by taking control of the tools used by ordinary people to resist. You risk like Mr. Musk did, to the TED conference and without much resistance brand yourself as a kind of public intellectual, thought leader, seer, and thus in the minds of many people you have become a sage and not a robber baron.

It shouldn’t be like this. We can have good things. But we need to learn to see through the scam stories that elevate figures like Mr. Musk to heroes. We will have to put up real barriers – perhaps like those created by the European Union’s Digital Services Act – to social media platforms that are too big to be trusted with democracy. We will have to create non-commercial platform alternatives and see if they can become meaningful venues.