Opinion: From the left: Musk not the right man for the job

Lance Simmens

Topic: Should Elon Musk be able to buy Twitter?

Twitter: Musk Not The Right Man For The Job

From the Left 

By Lance Simmens

Elon Musk, no stranger to controversy, has recently ventured into the world of social media via a hostile takeover of Twitter and it has sparked the inevitable questions that accompany such actions: namely, why and what qualifies or disqualifies him from doing so?  

Jason Miller, a former senior adviser to Donald Trump and current CEO at Gettr, created after the Jan. 6 insurrection and Trump’s removal from social media platforms such as Twitter, offers the following: “Musk has made clear that in order to be saved, Twitter needs a wholesale tear-down to the foundation, its leadership must be removed, and the politically discriminating ideologues running day-to-day operations must be replaced.”

Musk has described himself as a “free speech absolutist,” which in and of itself is enough to not only raise eyebrows but also the blood pressure of rational thinkers everywhere. Absolutists, whether from the right or the left, tend to wander into policy minefields like voting rights, civil rights, reproductive rights, gay rights, and other areas where rational individuals have difficulty invoking civil discourse and compromise, two important precepts which are foundational to democratic governance.

At a time where democracies across the world are encountering stiff competition from authoritarian populist movements fueled by misinformation, disinformation, outright lies, and the absurd contention of the existence of alternative facts, rational thought and civil discourse become less and less prominent and conspiracy theories blossom. Freedom, from ultra right groups, has a tendency to take on dangerous connotations that lead to racism, religious persecution, anti-immigrant biases, and isolationist/nationalist proclamations that are anathema to diversity that has been the hallmark of the nation’s growth over the past 250 years.

Freedom stops where your fist meets my face. Freedom does not allow one to “falsely yell fire in a crowded theater,” as captured by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in his 1919 opinion in the case of Schenck v. United States. Our Constitution is a living document and subject to progressive advancements that have tackled issues as precarious as slavery and the right to vote, just to name a few. Representative democracy as practiced in the United States is predicated upon a series of checks and balances that protects against tyranny of the majority.

The advancement of social media platforms such as Twitter rely upon content moderation to prevent misinformation, disinformation, and outright lies to the greatest extent possible. Musk’s absolutist stance should give great concern to those who wish to minimize false or misleading information cloaked in the mantle of free speech. And in an age where politicization of issues and division along ideological and political lines creates a vacuum where important issues are left unresolved, the last thing in the world that we need is an absolutist individual controlling a means of communication that exacerbates the divide.

There is little doubt that the battle lines are already drawn. According to a survey from the market research firm Momentive, among Twitter users, 77 percent of Republicans are excited about Musk’s purchase compared to just 22 percent of Democrats on the platform.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has cautioned “billionaires like Musk use their vast wealth to build a world unconstrained by laws, shareholders or accountability.” He has likened Musk’s current move to the corporate raiders of the 1970s and 1980s whose “antics often imposed huge social costs. They pushed America from stakeholder capitalism (where workers and communities had a say in what corporations did) to shareholder capitalism (where the sole corporate goal is to maximize shareholder value). Inequality skyrocketed, insecurity soared, vast swaths of America were abandoned, and millions of good jobs vanished.”

We are slowly losing control of the very functions that are relegated to government institutions and elected officials whose responsibility is to the citizens not authoritarian populists who are perpetrating a takeover under the guise of freedom, free market, and free speech — all buzz words designed to assist the assault on rules, regulations, guardrails, and checks and balances.

While I admire many of the things that Musk has advanced to address climate change, placing him at the epicenter of a movement to unleash upon the public unconstrained free speech laden with potential falsehoods that could be used to further divide the nation is a bridge too far. At this critical juncture, it would be like pouring gasoline on a raging fire. Mr. Musk should stick to his environmental agenda. 

And if you think this is an issue that has little relevance to your everyday concerns about gas and food prices, think again. The uncivil war among competing interests is reflected in all levels of government from Washington, D.C., to states, cities, counties, and city councils. Democracy is precariously tilting towards authoritarianism. If we are not careful, it could happen here.