April 26, 2022 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
The problem isn’t a billionaire like Elon Musk buying Twitter. The problem is the government’s fear of regulating billionaires
More likely than a mass exodus from the social media platform is that things will go on much as they did before.
Editor’s note: This piece appeared originally in Claire’s newsletter, Political Junkie. –JS
Elon Musk now owns Twitter. It’s gloomy news to many, particularly those who dread the return of Donald Trump to his favorite platform, one that he has been banned from since he sicced the militia movement on democracy in January 2021.
On the one hand, Twitter is alive with MAGA glee about Trump’s potential return as a defeat for the “libs,” one that will make them “cry” and “melt down.”
On the other hand, I am sure that Trump would rather have his own social media company succeed than be a guest on someone else’s.
Predictably, news of Musk’s success caused what remains of Truth Social’s value to go down the toilet. “As of noon on Monday,” Tom Boggioni writes at Raw Story, “the stock had fallen almost 15 percent, with shares trading at $35.18, down $6.15.”
We all know that many on the libertarian right don’t believe in free speech in the ways that the Supreme Court has defined it over the years, so those of us who think Twitter may turn into a sewer are not entirely speaking from anxiety.
So that’s happy news!
My guess is Andrew Torba at Gab and John Matze, Jared Thomson, George Farmer and investor Rebekah Mercer of Parler are having a mild freak out, too.
Or maybe they were just holding space until Twitter is returned to the raw, natural state that is most conducive to conspiracy theories and insurrection.
Gab and Parler only have about 3 million followers between them (half of whom probably live in basements in St. Petersburg) and have been counting on Twitter’s feeble moderation standards to hang onto even that pitiful consumer base.
Musk is gesturing at solving platform issues that have plagued Twitter for years.
“And authenticate all real humans.”
OK, this is worrisome. Because who among us does not have an alter account to spy on those who have blocked us?
Meanwhile, if not melting down, the libs are in a state of mild shock, with some vowing to leave the platform if Musk takes over.
“I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter,” Musk tweeted around midday, “because that is what free speech means.”
Of course, it does.
But we also all know that many on the libertarian right don’t believe in free speech in the ways that the Supreme Court has defined it over the years, so those of us who think Twitter may turn into a sewer are not entirely speaking from anxiety.
As Fox’s Tomi Lahren tweeted, “Free speech isn’t just saying what you want to say, it’s hearing what you don’t want to hear. It’s about time that was the case on social media.”
Neither of those things is true: there is no First Amendment right to say anything you want to say without penalty, nor is there a mandate to listen to, hear or read that which displeases one.
More likely than a mass exodus from Twitter is that things will go on much as they did before, perhaps with Trump, perhaps without him, and everyone will constantly complain about Elon Musk.
The only thing wrong with this sale is not that rich people can buy toys. Remember when Rupert Murdoch purchased the liberal New York Post and turned it into the right-wing cat pan sheet that it is today?
The problem is that we now live in a nation, and a world, where someone can buy the biggest megaphone there is — and there is no government brave enough to regulate him.
Claire Bond Potter is the Editorial Board's politics historian. A professor of historical studies at The New School for Social Research in New York City, she is the co-executive editor of Public Seminar and the publisher of Political Junkie. Follow her @TenuredRadical.