Why It Matters: Elon Musk and the decline of Twitter

Elon Musk pictured at a TED Talk, 2022. (Flickr/Steve Jurvetson)

By: Mike B, Red Phoenix correspondent, Ohio.

When 51-year-old Elon Musk purchased the social media platform Twitter in October for the sum of $44 billion, the event was heralded by reporters and pundits as one of the most consequential transactions of the present era. Yet on that day – and every day since then – working people have continued to rise each morning, fulfilling important roles in every facet of the economic system under challenging circumstances to provide for themselves, their families, and communities. Indeed, it seems that Musk’s much-touted acquisition and the future of Twitter means little for the hundreds of millions of Americans who perform the vital tasks that keep the country moving. But there are lessons to be learned from the affair thus far, as well as real implications on the future of communication, development, and the ultimate quality of life for working people moving forward.

Originally conceived and launched in 2006 by a small group of technology entrepreneurs, within the course of several years, Twitter quickly evolved from a narrowly focused networking and microblogging service to one of the most prominent communication forums in the world, hosting hundreds of millions  of users worldwide. From banal observations to major events in popular culture, public health, and geopolitical relations, Twitter has become a vital – and seemingly indispensable –communication outlet for individuals, organizations, and governments.

Twitter’s rapid expansion into virtually every facet of the zeitgeist also presented proponents of division and hate with a powerful new outlet for communication and recruitment. But as Twitter’s owners undertook efforts to reform their dysfunctional social media “ecosystem,” the ensuing backlash from the far right invoked complaints of censorship and repression, and that’s where Elon Musk – widely cited as the world’s wealthiest individual – entered the fray.

Although Musk had taken steps to exert control over Twitter as far back as five years ago, his efforts escalated considerably in the wake of the suspension of Donald Trump’s Twitter account in early 2021. Publicly, Musk maintained the ongoing narrative that he is a crusader of “free speech” and sought to acquire the platform to promote a broader social discourse. Following litigation and legal maneuvering, the deal was sealed on October 27, 2022, and Musk took the helm as Twitter CEO. Repercussions were immediate, both internally and throughout the Twittersphere. Within the first week of his acquisition, Musk laid off thousands of employees and hate speech exploded across the platform. For his part, Musk consistently downplayed the significance of this trend, while moving swiftly to reinstate the banned accounts of far-right provocateurs and propagandists, including Jordan Peterson, Project Veritas, and Donald Trump.

There is an all-too-evident element of adventurism with respect to the financial risks associated with his capital venture, as well as Musk’s conspicuous penchant to extort power and control over vast swaths of humanity. Individualism and egotism are also evident in his present course of action, particularly considering that he opted to spend approximately one quarter of his estimated wealth not on meaningful and tangible efforts to improve the quality of and access to public discourse, but by expending vast amounts of capital to buttress his bloated public image.

Musk’s public assertions regarding freedom of expression provide a thin veil of cover for his true motivation, which is the same for all capitalists at their core: to maximize and concentrate personal wealth. The following points are important conclusions to this end:

  1. Capitalists consistently act in their own self-interest, both individually, and as a ruling class (the bourgeoisie).
  2. Capitalists seek to perpetuate divisiveness – including racist ideology, hate speech, and repressive language – among working people to sow discord and prevent cooperation between groups, thereby minimizing or preventing meaningful social change.
  3. When working people and the working class are at odds, the power of capitalists is effectively unchecked, resulting in a wealth gap that benefits the ruling class and penalizes and represses workers.

In many respects, Musk has already done considerable damage in the early months of his new enterprise by instituting mass firings, perpetuating a reportedly hostile work environment, and, as noted above, inciting the present resurgence in online hate speech. Nevertheless, even greater detriments are possible as the social media platform descends further into chaos. In late November, Twitter ended its ban on COVID-related misinformation, effectively opening the floodgates for old and new strands of the type of conspiracies and pseudoscience that contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people during the peak periods of the pandemic. Most recently, Musk abruptly dissolved his platform’s Trust and Safety Council, a volunteer advisory group formed to address hate speech, child exploitation, suicide, and similar problems on Twitter.

From the politics of hate and division to the perpetuation of dangerous misinformation and poisonous ideology, Twitter under Musk has effectively metastasized into a new clearinghouse for pseudoscience and fascism, in which the language and strategies of exploitation and repression are not only accepted, but encouraged. As such, the medium in its current form places the health and welfare of working people at risk – and that is precisely why this matters.

Categories: Media & Culture, U.S. News

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