On May 12, Elon Musk said that Linda Yaccarino would take his place as CEO of Twitter. From her background, it didn’t seem to many that this change would be all that substantial, to which the reality remained that Musk still owned the company and would remain chief technology officer.
It turned out that only a few hours after making that announcement – and in fairness, he was likely still the CEO – Twitter announced that it is “taken action to restrict access to some content in Turkey,” though the blocked content would still be available in the rest of the world.
It’s worth noting that this announcement came in the midst of a very tight election in Turkey that required a run-off only two weeks later on May 28 between the country’s fascist dictator Recep Tyyip Erdogan and opposition leader Kemal Killicdaroglu.
Given that the Turkish government controls much of the country’s media, it seems likely that Turkey made this request, most likely in the form of a threat. And it seems probable that they did this, not only because Erdogan is a fascist dictator, but because Turkey saw that India had made a similar threat to Twitter before its election, and Twitter gave in to them.
This stands out all the more since Musk is such a supposed vocal “free speech” advocate on all things, including allowing misinformation about COVID and letting hate speech proliferate on the social media platform. Although he did suspend an individual who posted public information about the location of Musk’s private jet, and suspended several journalists who merely wrote stories about it. And he’s fired Tesla employees for posting negative material Tesla that Musk didn’t like. So, his track record on “free speech” all the time seems a bit sketchy at best.
When the story about blocking tweets in Turkey broke, liberal journalist Matt Yglesias the next day “the Turkish government asked Twitter to censor its opponents right before an election and @elonmusk complied.”
Musk tweeted a reply: “Did your brain fall out of your head, Yglesias? The choice is have Twitter throttled in its entirety or limit access to some tweets. Which one do you want?”
Yes, that was the choice. And Musk chose to enable a fascist dictator so he could silence his opposition and help him retain power. As opposed to choosing free speech. Which Musk proclaim to supposedly support in absolute. It was his choice. And he chose fascism. So be it – but he should no longer pretend to support free speech in absolute.
The additional problem is that when you cave to a fascist dictator, then other such authoritarians see that they can’t make the same demands and help themselves hold onto power. And if you refuse the threat, the dictator has to make the decision whether to follow through and risk the outrage in his country at losing access to the world’s most popular social media platform and possible uprising against his power – or decide to back down.
None of this really comes as a huge shock if one pays even the slightest attention to Musk’s action, including him recommending that everyone vote a straight Republican ticket in the Mid-terms -- a perfectly acceptable personal opinion, though a deeply weird and troubling one for the owner of a social media platform who had been attacking the company before he bought it for what he claimed were its political biases – in that case, supposedly for liberals.
Coming on the heels of Musk’s anti-Semitic comments about George Soros wanting to “erode the very fabric of civilization. Soros hates humanity” it’s been a horrible few weeks for Elon Musk. But then, in fairness, it’s been a horrible year for Musk. Though in fairness, he’s brought it all on himself.
Ever since Musk bought Twitter, users have left the platform in droves -- and worse, so have advertisers. At the moment, there is value in me staying there, to promote this site. And also to respond to far-right misinformation, especially in an election year coming up. (Besides which, while I know there are advertisers, I've never seen a paid corporate ad on Twitter the way I use it. So, they're not getting a bang from their buck from me...) But I'm nearing to the point where the line is crossed. It's worth my time, but I'm giving less of it. Ignoring as much of the increase in smarminess and hate as I can, and being far-quicker to block it.
Of course Elon Musk doesn't care. He said as much just the other day, not caring what other people think about what he says and does. Which when you come down to it seems an incredibly poor way for the owner of a social media platform to operate.
And which might explain why people and advertisers have left it in droves. And does explain why he's brought this on himself.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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