By Neera Kuckreja Sohoni
Following Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, scores of judgments were hastily issued by our hyper-sensitive snowflake-y and ever-sanctimonious liberal media, which has never felt at ease ever since Trump brazenly announced his presidential bid, and managed to take the White House against all odds and dismal predictions he would fail.
Aided and abetted by the media and an entrenched federal bureaucracy, Democrats along with some Never-Trump Republicans continued to deride, deny and sabotage Trump’s presidency engaging him in endless sexual and business scandals and impeachment dramas. Trump’s crime was that he was an outsider who preferred to sideline the prevailing power structures and brokers who control the levers of government.
Trump’s very presence at the nation’s helm, his brash manner and relentless tweets threw them off their mental balance, leaving them scampering for any excuse to brand him racist, fascist, and a direct threat to American democracy. The events of January 6 added fuel to their fire engaging them in their ongoing crusade to permanently seal his political future by indicting him as insurrectionist.
It is now Musk’s turn to be in their line of fire. The alacrity and zeal with which the liberal conglomerate has redirected its missiles on Musk is astounding but not unexpected.
Musk’s purchase of a company with a significant megaphone but far fewer users than Facebook (about 70% Americans use Facebook compared to 25% who use Twitter) and no demonstrable profitability, and its net worth well below a jaw-dropping 44 billion dollars Musk paid for it, one would expect media to have focused more on the economics of the deal.
Their brainpower could have been better used on questioning Musk’s business sense in making and getting stuck with having to deliver on an unreasonably costly bid, and on evaluating Musk’s prospects of cutting the near certain losses on his investment.
Instead they are slamming Musk for his temerity in purchasing Twitter and his audacious appropriation of the digital space they thought was going to serve their partisan politics forever. Crucifying him for buying Twitter and delisting it from the stock exchange, they are crying wolf about Musk ringing the death knell of democracy.
Musk is immoral they contend for simply being the world’s wealthiest man who is now singularly in Nazi-like control of a popular chunk of social media that had faithfully served as their lapdog. Never mind that his peer – Amazon’s founder- Chairman Jeff Bezos, once the wealthiest and now the third wealthiest man in the world – owns Washington Post, one of American print media’s two crown jewels.
Bezos’ ownership of the Post raised no eyebrows among media pundits, nor have we seen them haranguing Post and Bezos for consistently favoring Hillary and Biden over Trump. Bezos revealed his animus and bias very early when he cast suspicion on Musk’s Twitter bid by tweeting, “Did Chinese government just gain a bit of leverage over the town square?”
Strongly opposed to the deal, an international group of left-leaning activist organizations known as “Stop the Deal” coalition warned that Musk’s unilateral control of Twitter may lead to an even “more hate-filled cesspool” of Twitter and cause “irreparable real-world harm”.
Following the Twitter transaction’s completion, Washington Post quickly brought in its cavalry. Leading the charge, its Tech Section ominously warned Twitter users, “Twitter has a new billionaire owner with big plans. For many loyal users of the 16-year old site, Elon Musk’s takeover is a sign it’s time to use Twitter less or leave it altogether”. The Post’s Help Desk is in fact offering “How-To” guides to leaving Twitter, suggesting other better sites including even the infinitely more suspect Chinese-controlled TikTok!
Mainstream media channels joined the coordinated charge by claiming a rapid rise in hate speech under Musk. Spreading panic over Musk’s proclaimed intention to overhaul the site, they are citing his early tweet as Twitter’s “Chief Twit” announcing the ‘Bird is Free’ as signifying the end of speech restrictions and censorship on Twitter under its new owner.
They are freaking out most on his intention to lift the ban on user accounts that were arbitrarily held in contempt of Twitter’s dubious norms of acceptable speech, including the account of the reigning President Trump with his Twitter following of 50 million viewers.
Already horrified that Musk’s ownership signifies the end of liberal control of public discourse on social media, Musk’s other tweet suggesting ‘Let the Good Times Roll’ is what has set their hair on fire, causing them to alert Americans against putting their trust in Musk.
Internet Safety groups vehemently against Twitter’s takeover not only are claiming the acquisition is “dangerous for us all,” but are urging other social media platforms to uphold safety standards and guardrails they deem essential to safe speech. Joining their fervent appeals are liberal personalities in the academia, corporate, and political arena.
Alas, safe speech is only speech that meets their approval, echoes their beliefs, and subscribes to the Woke culture of virtue practicing and signaling.
In contrast to outraged liberals are dissenters and groups opposing existing regimes in countries such as India, Pakistan, Iran, etcetera who like Republicans here are silently or openly cheering Musk’s Twitter takeover. Seeking to capitalize on Musk’s promise to ensure free speech on Twitter, even users associated with Russian and Chinese state media outlets have called on Musk to remove labels that identify their accounts as propaganda!
On its part, social media unquestionably has abused its power to influence discourse by resorting to nefarious means of judging and regulating content. Twitter and Facebook, for example, had swiftly excluded from their platforms any reference to Biden Junior’s notorious ‘Laptop from Hell’ with Meta’s leader Mark Zuckerberg recently confessing he did so at the specific behest of the FBI. To some extent that single action threw the election to Biden.
Along with other tech groups, they had also invested astronomical amounts of funds and expertise in structuring and shaping electoral machineries and outcomes.
During the painful Covid pandemic era, they had conspired with the ruling administrations in America and elsewhere to control the discourse on Covid thereby corrupting the entire discipline and practice of medical science and disease control. They had co-opted eminent scientists and scientist organizations in the US, UK, EU, China, WHO, and elsewhere to reflect their take on the pandemic’s origin, epidemiology, and ameliorative public health protocols, strategies, and policies.
Lockdowns thrust on confused and gullible populations inflicted heavy long-lasting damage on national and global economies, polities, and societies. Most hurt were school children who are several generations behind in their learning curve due to instant shutdown of schools and their slowest reopening ever.
No wiser from their reckless conduct, social media has continued to kowtow to untested policies with unproven outcomes. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Twitter eagerly stepped in to announce its horrific decision to label all tweets containing links from Russian-state affiliated media websites, and shrink their visibility by not recommending them.
Earlier, acting in a similar mode, social media companies had used labels on Russian and Chinese state media accounts as a firewall against foreign interference in US elections.
Hopeful of a new dawn in Twitter, social media users are urging Musk to deliver on his promise of unshackling speech.
The gauntlet is now thrown to Musk – a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist,” to roll back content moderation practices on the platform he has singularly acquired and is committed to govern.
Musk has been suspicious and critical of Twitter’s erstwhile content leaders – chief among them being Vijaya Gadde, who was shown the door on the very first day of Musk’s entry into Twitter Headquarters as its owner. Throughout his courtship of Twitter, Musk has expressed his resentment of the arbitrary and ill-founded suppression of differences in opinion by Twitter’s whimsical content managers, who unscrupulously devised and deployed algorithms to steer discourse to serve their own biases and their political patrons.
Worse, they had empowered themselves to serve as judge, jury, and executioner, leaving them free to cause digital havoc by abusing enforcement mechanisms to indefinitely suspend accounts they did not favor. That they evicted a sitting president merely because they perceived him to be a threat by daring merely to finish his term, while leaving Iranian, Chinese and world’s other brutal autocrats to keep their twitter accounts running, speaks volumes of their power-corrupted minds and skewed understanding of the American constitutionally protected right to free speech.
Gadde’s instant ouster occurred along with that of the CEO Parag Agrawal, another stalwart opponent of the right to Freedom of Speech. His obnoxious scoffing of this critical fundamental right is captured in a widely circulated video.
Those speedy dismissals by Musk are proof that change is coming.
Content moderation policies pursued by digital platforms are at the root of the current and impending battle between preservers and promoters of free speech on one hand, and its moderators and regulators on the other. The extent to which they will bend their platforms and lend their voice to serve the governments and regimes in power is a formidable ideational war astounding in its global reach and far more critical to democracy’s survival and future than the previous two World Wars or Russia’s Ukraine War.
Neera Kuckreja Sohoni is a published author based in California. A Ph.D. in Economics from Pune University, she was an affiliated research scholar at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Stanford University.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times