In April of this year, the world's richest meme lord, Elon Musk, publicly announced plans to acquire one of the most important digital watering holes of our time. After failing to secure significant influence from within by becoming the majority shareholder, Musk vowed to acquire Twitter outright in an effort to rid the site of bot accounts and bring the ability to “speak freely” back to the people. In a move worth $44 billion dollars, Musk, who is relatively cash-poor, initially seemed unfazed by the monetary weight of it all. While some people are excited about their favorite billionaire having control of social media, the rest of us are concerned about the implications of allowing Some Guy to preside over a crucial piece of democracy. 

The way Musk operates makes it clear that he views himself as the savior of humanity; an uber-rich Robin Hood in some, convoluted way. His public-facing blasé attitude towards the $44 billion Twitter purchase is meant to bolster his [arguably unearned] reputation of furthering humanity at any cost. And yet, once faced with the reality of moving forward with the deal, his cold feet bested his dreams of being the savior society so desperately demands. Only three months after announcing the move, Musk attempted to back out of the deal over “uncooperative behavior” from Twitter’s team. Apparently the sanctity of civilization is not worth that much. 

A peek at Musk’s track record shows that his decision to back out at the last minute is not all that surprising. This past week, Musk tweeted that he would be purchasing the entire Manchester United team--later claiming it was “just a joke”. He has made similar “jokes” countless times over the years. The difference between Musk and any other person being facetious on this scale is that he has the power to actually follow through if he so chooses. 

Musk’s power is terrifyingly evident in the control his ≤250 characters have on Real World Things like market behavior. In 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged Musk with securities fraud after false claims he made on Twitter about the value of Tesla caused the stock to jump 6% overnight (see: MAJOR market disruption). Similarly, as self-proclaimed “Dogefather” (gross), the cryptocurrency Dogecoin saw a jump of 20% immediately following the Musk-Twitter announcement. Pretty much anytime he has even alluded to the coin publicly, his pack of crypto-dogs follow suit; resulting in major changes in the coin’s value depending on how Musk feels about it that day. 

For Musk, and people in similar monetary positions, market volatility has minimal impact on their daily lives. They’ve surpassed the action potential threshold into eternal growth and power. However, as crypto, for example, becomes more accessible to people all over the world, even slight devaluations in currency can cause catastrophic losses. Crypto has been marketed to the masses as a way out of the born-work-die monotony of life under capitalism. As such, amateur investors are taking massive risks on the off-chance that a life boat arrives for themselves and their loved ones. At the forefront of this movement, and those who are, therefore, being impacted the most, are women, people under 40, and POC.

You would think that someone who claims to care so deeply about humanity, about the livelihoods of everyday people, would handle his power with considerably more caution and compassion. Yet not only does he consistently spit in the face of the millions who are betting their lives on a currency he holds in the palm of his hand, he also vehemently avoids any whiff of consequences thrown his way. 

It makes sense, then, that someone deathly allergic to accountability would proudly hold the title of a “free speech absolutist”. As the spread of misinformation is a major point of contention in the social media zeitgeist, we must be wary of the baggage that comes along with Musk’s free speech no matter what attitude. Platforms that have already adapted this mindset, such as Parler and Truth Social (Trump’s own platform), have historically been breeding grounds for some of the darkest parts of the American collective. Their lack of moderation against hate-speech and misinformation allow for tangibly dangerous discourse to take place. For instance, Parler was forced offline after it was proven that its members were responsible for planning the January 6th Capitol riots. Truth Social, which remains active, has allowed [and encourages] members to spend the past week doxxing the FBI agents [and their families] who were involved in the recent “raid” on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. 

Behind his motivations of bot-abolition and free speech absolution, Musk touts a common theme among those involved with the newly emerging era of tech (referred to as Web 3.0 by your local tech bro): decentralization. Loosely, decentralized tech is the idea that consumers can have more ownership and control over their access to knowledge and wealth. It has been explained to me as transferring the power away from a centralized entity, be that an organization or an individual, and dispersing it across a vast network. At first glance, this seems like a noble cause. One that most of us pushing for broader social equity could get behind. 

While I, admittedly, don’t have the knowledge to rip apart the concept in its totality, I do have some valid flags to raise in relation to Musk’s Twitter acquisition. The first being the obvious-- his ownership of Twitter would replace a multi-person board with a single, decision-making entity: himself. Is this not the exact antithesis of decentralization? Sure, he has made claims of wanting to make Twitter’s code publicly accessible on code-sharing platforms like GitHub. But at the end of the day, all decisions about who can and cannot use the platform, who is considered a “bot”, what language is tolerated, and how operations are run is entirely at the discretion of a mercurial Musk and his vision. 

Further, Musk expressed desires to privatize the company which ensures that he is not liable to any shareholders or Wall Street earning expectations. Private companies largely avoid regulations, disclosure requirements, and financial reporting; measures that keep publicly traded companies in line. Privatization removes external checks and balances. Such a move allows him to feign transparency all he wants as there will be no one to ensure that he is following through. 

That begs the question––do we really need someone who treats rules, regulations, and consequences with such indifference to be the sole proprietor of, as he calls it, our “modern day towns square”? The implications of allowing a virtually omnipotent man to have a significant reach in social, economic, and political realms is terrifying. This is especially the case in a time when political polarization is so jarring that each election, no matter how localized, has the potential to either save or strip entire groups of people of basic human rights. 

Twitter is the birthplace of some of the world’s most important social and political movements and should be handled with due-care. It spawned the age of instant reporting of major events, starting with the “miracle on the Hudson” in 2009, and expanding to global movements such as Arab Spring, #MeToo, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Musk has made it clear that, regardless of a successful Twitter acquisition, he plans to make his own political opinions known as we near the November midterms and the 2024 presidential election cycle. 

American Democracy is notably flawed in the sense that the voices of the people pale in comparison to the echo of a dollar. So, for a man who is so intent on “preserving democracy”, it is interesting that he would turn around and commit $25 million to whomever his preferred presidential candidate ends up being. [Which, by the way, is gearing up to be Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis]. Being that Musk’s only contention with a Trump candidacy is that he is “too old”, and not his egregious history of hate speech, sexual assault, inciting violence, and, most recently, being under investigation for literal treason, I have doubts in Musk’s ability to soundly evaluate candidates worthy of the most important job in the country let alone have sole decision-making power of 238M Twitter accounts.

Although Musk has attempted to destroy the deal, his contractual obligations make it so it is unlikely he’ll be let off without a fight. Everyone is on edge about how this will play out, and rightfully so. Courts could go as far as forcing Musk to follow through with everything, which would likely result in a massive tantrum on his end. This could lead to loosened moderation restrictions--rendering the platform unusable, or its complete closure. My money is on the former. 

This case will carry out over the next few months and is guaranteed to cause significant ripples in the sanctity of Democracy no matter how it unfolds. Either courts decide Musk owes a fraction of the sticker price in fines, or must take over the platform completely. It seems unlikely he will be cooperative in any instance, which will call into question the enforcement power of the U.S. justice system.

Regardless of Musk and the outcome of this deal, we must consider how easily executives at Twitter were about to hand over such an important pillar to global democracy. I’m not surprised, but it is shocking to think that all it takes is $44 billion and their core value of “staying reliable and credible” is as good as gone. 

In an era of low levels of trust in governmental institutions and democracy, in general, it’s not a great time to also lose faith in our extra-governmental gathering places. But the fight is not over yet. Raise hell with your 250 characters while you still can.