Elon Musk is turning Twitter into a fascist free-for-all
AP

Has a billionaire ever ruined an investment and public good faster than Elon Musk is destroying Twitter? Aside from speculation about why the world’s wealthiest capitalist bought Twitter for $44 billion, one thing is clear: The platform is going down the sewer quickly, and many wonder whether it will survive.

Since Oct. 27, Musk has fired half the staff, including those responsible for monitoring and removing hate content. Consequently, racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-trans posts have exploded. Musk has publicly allied with MAGA, the global extreme right, and autocratic regimes, including the Saudi monarchy, which helped finance the acquisition, in tweets and deeds.

Previously, Twitter made some attempts to regulate content. But Musk is dismantling regulations and reinstated 62,000 accounts suspended for hate speech, including Trump, Marjorie Taylor Green, and other fascists, MAGA, and neo-Nazi scum.

“Elon Musk sent up the Bat Signal to every kind of racist, misogynist, and homophobe that Twitter was open for business,” said Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate. COVID-19 and other domestic and foreign disinformation and QAnon conspiracy posts are surging.

Disgusted users are fleeing Twitter in droves, searching for new platforms that offer a safe environment and democratic “public square,” like The Post and Mastodon. The ensuing chaos is prompting large corporate advertisers to freeze ad buys.

Musk’s purchase and rapid reshaping of Twitter into an extreme right-wing cesspool is inseparable from the global capitalist concentration of wealth and power and the assault by right-wing billionaires on constitutional democracy, democratic institutions, the rule of law, and the peaceful transfer of power.

“This is emblematic of tech oligarchs amassing so much power and influence,” said Thomas Zimmer, Georgetown University Professor, who calls Twitter the most critical political communication platform in the world. Zimmer is co-host of the “Is this Democracy?” podcast with Perry Bacon, Jr., and Lilliana Mason. “Tech oligarchs come in with no checks and balances, and not guided by the public good,” he said.

Musk decimates Twitter’s democratic aspects and enormous potential by imposing his extreme right-wing and hierarchical views on the platform. The degradation started long before Musk but has accelerated under his brief watch.

“Musk has been on a rightward trajectory for some time,” said Zimmer. “It’s not a coincidence the Trumpist right wants him in charge of Twitter and is good for them. Musk, like Peter Thiel and other libertarians, turn extreme rightists, aim for removing all regulations and maintain traditional (class, racial, gender) hierarchies.” They are in alignment with autocratic regimes and the global far right.

Like many users, I have a love-hate relationship with the platform. As an activist journalist, I appreciate the positive role Twitter plays in civil society. It has a wide practical use. For example, emergency managers use it to collect information and respond to crises and natural disasters. Governments and elected officials use it to inform or interact with the public.

But Twitter also enables the organizing, political, and ideological work of mass democratic movements and provides a platform for marginalized voices who don’t get heard in the mainstream mass media.

Through Twitter, I’m part of numerous thriving online communities. I can connect with and learn from a diversity of leading activists, academics, policymakers, scientists, cultural workers, organizations, and political analysts worldwide, including many I would never have known. I value breaking news and live tweets from protests, electoral campaigns, press conferences, and forums.

“Twitter democratized our discourse,” said Bacon. “People who didn’t have a lot of influence could have their comments, if they were interesting enough, be heard widely. A lot of the initial organizing around Black Lives Matter happened there. The 2020 protests after the George Floyd murder don’t happen in the same way (without Twitter).” Musk has no regard for these voices, said Bacon, who worries the discourse will disappear.

There’s a lot of apprehension about the loss and devastation of all these networks we have built over the years, said Mason. “Musk is bringing so much chaos and uncertainty that many of these groups feel they are being disempowered. (It feels like) the loss of a whole community that’s inevitable and no one knows what to do right now. For democracy, it feels like we can lose a lot of voices,” he said.

Twitter is also a tool in information warfare and mass indoctrination, including by extreme right-wing billionaires, movements, and autocratic regimes. Musk is working to make it part of the vast right-wing media and propaganda ecosystem and hopes to lure other right-wing investors. That ecosystem includes Fox News, Infowars, Breitbart, Newsmax, fascist online chat rooms, Substack newsletters, podcasts, and other independent channels.

I’ve witnessed the hate, widespread bigotry, and bullying, and I’ve seen how right-wing and far-left-wing trolls have promoted toxic discourse by viciously attacking users, including myself. MAGA fascists use Twitter to instigate violence. The damage caused by QAnon conspiracies and disinformation is well documented, including Russian interference in the 2016, 2018, 2020, and 2022 elections and the Brexit vote.

Rumors and disinformation also affect the work of first responders, emergency managers, and aid workers. “Misinformation and disinformation can inflict harm on humanitarian organizations,” said Robert Mardini, the director general of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). “When the ICRC or our Red Cross Red Crescent Movement partners face false rumors about our work or behavior, it can put our staff’s safety in jeopardy.”

The degradation occurring at Twitter is happening to varying degrees with other social media pillars of the modern public square. Hedge fund managers are disrupting the flow of information by purchasing legacy newspapers and gutting them for profit, leaving communities without quality local news and professional journalists out of a job.

Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, under the control of billionaires, have contributed to extreme political polarization. The demand for profits creates algorithms that drive user behavior. Users respond to hate and outrage and become trapped in an information “house of mirrors.” Debates escalate quickly to toxic levels, create polarization, and undermine civil society and democracy.

Philippine journalist, activist, and Nobel Peace Prize co-winner Maria Ressa says social media ownership by billionaires and the rise of dictators go together. “One enabled the other,” Ressa told Steven Colbert on The Late Show. “There’s a reason why 60% of the world is under authoritarian rule and the number of democracies has rolled back to 1989 levels.”

In 2016, Ressa called for an end to the brutal drug war by President Rodrigo Duterte and Facebook’s social media domination of Philippine society. In the Philippines, 100% of residents have Facebook accounts, and Meta, the owner of Facebook, has amassed their interests, networks, and habits to drive profits.

She described the parallels with U.S. events leading to the violent Jan. 6 insurrection. The same methodology was at play in “bottom-up social media,” said Ressa. “A lie told a million times becomes a fact, then it comes top-down from the president, and then you have no idea where the truth lies. We saw that society was splintering.

“With no agreement on facts, we have no shared reality and no democracy,” said Ressa. “Social media has come in and used free speech to stifle free speech.” Hate, outrage, lies, anger, and fear keep people on social media and drive profits, and social media companies are not held accountable.

Social media platforms are an essential public good in a modern democratic society. Studies show, for example, that inspiration travels faster than lies. Software designers and engineers built the platform, and billions of users shaped them to the needs of society.

The fight to curb the power of giant tech corporations and tech billionaires and regulate social media platforms is one critical aspect of the fight for democracy, especially the fight to repel the MAGA fascist movement and extreme-right-wing billionaire assault that has aroused millions to action.

To reach their potential as a public good, the public must free them from private ownership and corporate greed. Public or cooperative ownership, democratic regulation, or some quasi-non-profit status with publicly governing boards, similar to NPR or PBS, is a better way to ensure their positive role. Democratizing the flow of information and social media platforms is necessary for full political and economic democracy.


CONTRIBUTOR

John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He served as national chair of the CPUSA from 2014 to 2019. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, Pittsburgh, and Albuquerque and attended Antioch College. He currently lives in Chicago where he is an avid swimmer, cyclist, runner, and dabbler in guitar and occasional singer in a community chorus.

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