In this article I will explore whether Elon Musk is deserving of the adulation he currently receives (in some circles) as a champion of free speech, as an outspoken critic of the World Economic Forum, and as a disruptor of the Deep State.
The article is divided into three parts. This is Part I, The Pied Piper of Twitter. Parts II and III will be published next week.
- The Pied Piper of Twitter
- A Twist in the Thiel
The Pied Piper of Twitter
Tesla’s CEO may warble twitter in interviews as though the word had been tooted down the whistle-end of a Chupa Chup Melody Pop, but it’s in writing that the self-proclaimed free speech absolutist (and sometimes incoherent mumbler) finds his voice.
And it was one of his tweets which stuck in my craw of late.
Musk talks a big game, and in reply to concerns over the appointment of Linda Yaccarino, Chairman of the World Economic Forum’s Taskforce on Future of Work (whatever that means), Musk sympathized:
“I hear your concerns, but don’t judge too early. I am adamant about defending free speech, even if it means losing money.”
Wait, what did he just say? Even if it means losing money.?! I’ll argue that this statement is total bullcrap and that Elon is a phony. Let us begin.
Elon’s revamped Twitter offers its users 8 bucks a month (11 bucks on iOS) for a new service called Twitter Blue which offers features including boosting visibility and “prioritizing rankings in conversations and search”.
In practice it seems to me users are largely regaining the visibility they once had prior to the introduction of the service. Twitter also offers businesses an equivalent service starting at $1000 a month, and dubbed Twitter Verified Organizations.
So (in a nutshell) if you pay you get boosted and your voice is artificially amplified.
I’m also suspicious, based on personal experience and anecdotal evidence (the only evidence with currency these days) that not paying for Twitter Blue results in artificially reduced visibility (suppression) with the intention of encouraging users to upgrade. But we can set that speculation aside for now.
Because what we can say with certainty is that Twitter Blue violates and precludes any notion of free speech by creating (at minimum) a two-tier system in which the haves and have-nots have different visibility, so much so that some users are invisible.
This harkens back to the inspiring words of Project Gutenberg founder Michael S. Hart who spoke of the gap between what he called the Information Rich and Information Poor.
Suppression is a form of censorship, and reducing Freedom of Reach is tantamount to censoring Freedom of Speech.
Twitter Blue’s multi-tier system of visibility and boosting (and reducing) sets a paradigm in which different users have different amounts of free speech; in other words no free speech at all.
As much as Twitter Blue subscribers might have their tweets boosted, those unwilling (or unable) to pay for the service are compromised and their tweets being relegated with spam, bots (and other have-nots) at the end of threads under Show More Replies.
Worse still, there’s no way of knowing when you are turned invisible, and so with regularity you’ll witness Twitter users panic and scream into the silence: “Do you see me?”
Until recently I had assumed only the have-nots suffer this indignity, but as it transpires (and as observed by Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger) even the haves are not spared.
If I were to pony up and pay for Twitter Blue it would only be to regain the greater visibility I once enjoyed; to pay for what used to be free. Since I never got the jab to regain the physical freedoms I had once enjoyed pre-pandemic, I’ll not be coerced into paying to regain these either.
Are we not viewing ads? Are Twitter users not commodities in the information economy, and is it not the case we once valued our Twitter accounts by our contributions and engagement?
Since taking over Musk has censored Substack in an anticompetitive action and fallen out with Matt Taibi; he shut down the API for 3rd parties (then jacked up the price); he banned Mastodon’s account and users for sharing Mastodon handles in their Twitter profiles.
All these actions speak to someone with little respect for “free speech” and to a man whose priorities are financial (as is in keeping with being one of the world’s richest men).
“The relationship between Elon Musk and his lead Twitter Files writer has ended over Musk’s decision to block interactions on tweets that include links to Substack. As a result of Twitter’s actions against Substack today, writer Matt Taibbi has left Twitter and said he will solely be using Substack going forward.” Mashable, April 7 2023
The Twitter Files are for many people the best evidence for Elon being a free speech warrior. But none of the “revelations” contained in them have made a splash in the mainstream media, or led to any arrests or resignations. It is reminiscent of Tucker Carlson, whose exclusive on the Jan 6 Insurrection with previously unseen footage of the guy with horns (Jacob Chansley) coolly walking through the hallowed halls with a security guard escort. What should have been revelatory simply wasn’t because Tucker, like Elon, is publicly discredited as someone not to take seriously.
As of last month, Elon has sacked over 80% of Twitter staff and auctioned off everything except the kitchen sink he brought with him to Twitter HQ: office furniture, coffee machines, cooking equipment. He plucked the bird.
Whilst it may have been satisfying for many observers who’d been burned by Twitter one way or another (I was one of them), these actions again paint the picture of a person focused on the bottom-line. Money.
Actions speak louder than words, but even Elon’s words speak to his actions. At the end of last year Musk warned his staff that Twitter might go bankrupt only months after he bought it for a whopping $44 billion. Twitter Inc now incurs an annual interest payment of about $1.2 billion a year, according to an article in The Guardian published in November last year. The same article also highlights the fall in Twitter’s advertising revenue which it attributed to advertiser fears about hate-speech following Elon’s amnesty on (some) banned accounts.
Less than six months later Bloomberg now reports Elon Musk says Twitter Inc. is “trending to breakeven” after he had to save it from “bankruptcy.” How did Elon rescue Twitter’s finances so soon after prognosticating doom? Since advertising dollars account for around 90% of Twitter’s revenue it’s fair to assume he has allayed advertiser fears with the Yaccarino appointment.
Those defending the poor man’s Tony Stark might protest: “But he restored banned accounts”. True, but he did not resurrect all the high-profile accounts banned by his forebears (take Alex Jones for example) and who’s to say this amnesty was not just a publicity stunt, or something else. After all he couldn't get Donald Trump to return to Twitter after restoring his account, hardly surprising since this tweet and Trump’s subsequent condemnation of the lithium miner as “another bullshit artist”.
Now that the pandemic is ‘officially’ behind us we are seemingly free to discuss COVID and the mRNA vaccinations on Twitter, or at least freer. But let’s be frank about it and admit that the pandemic is largely yesterday’s news and that the coup of duping billions of people into getting vaccinated is now done and dusted.
So what of today’s news: what about the war in Ukraine?
All Russian media outlets are banned and even Russia Today, once home to Max Kaiser’s show, have been eviscerated from Twitter (in the EU) and other social media.
Once more the people are in an information blackout and are further bamboozled by words like misinformation and disinformation, words that I had hardly ever heard prior to the COVID pandemic.
We are kept in the dark by the collective incompetence and corruption of Western media and Twitter is a part of that blackout even with (or perhaps especially with) Elon at its helm.
The new Twitter CEO Yaccarino chastised her new boss, Elon, in a recent town hall meeting attended by advertisers seeking contrition and reform.
Yaccarino advocates content moderation and fact checking, and while Elon did not give the audience exactly what they wanted he certainly gave them enough by permitting the question to be asked in the first place, and by leveraging the opportunity with pregnant pauses and ponderous big brain energy mumblings.
There is evidence everywhere that little has fundamentally changed at Twitter since Elon took over.
Accounts sharing information about Russia and Ukraine, Gamestop and God Knows What Else, are routinely shadowbanned, suppressed and censored. The apparatus of three-letter orgs within Twitter, which predate Elon’s acquisition, still operate in the belly of the blue bird. Bots abound as they did once before and it’d be nice to know if Elon were prepared to share the numbers he once sought.
At worst, the extra freedoms we now perceive on Twitter (but which do not exist) offer the enticements of a honey-pot; a trap. In other words, relax and give us your money, name and address, tell us what’s happening and then one day you’ll just disappear. Cool?
Whether the self-doxxing of millions of accounts with Twitter Blue, or the explosive growth of Twitter Spaces which live and travel on our phones, are we being handed extra lengths of rope with which to hang ourselves? Blindly dancing to the tune of the Pied Piper and his Melody Pop.
At best, it appears nothing has fundamentally changed at Twitter since Elon took over. I’d no sooner trust a billionaire with free speech than I would a poet with money.
This concludes Part I, The Pied Piper of Twitter.