Robert Reich — a Berkeley professor who formerly served as secretary of labor under the Clinton administration — argued on Tuesday that Elon Musk’s vision for Twitter is “dangerous nonsense.”
Elon Musk recently became Twitter’s largest shareholder following the purchase of a 9.2% stake in the social media firm. He has promised to “make significant improvements to Twitter” and has polled his followers on whether or not Twitter “rigorously adheres” to the principles of free speech.
In an opinion piece for The Guardian, however, Reich asserted that Musk’s takeover is “just about power.”
“Years ago, pundits assumed the internet would open a new era of democracy, giving everyone access to the truth. But dictators like Putin and demagogues like Trump have demonstrated how naive that assumption was,” he began, calling Trump’s removal from all major social media platforms “necessary to protect American democracy.”
Reich then slammed Musk for telling his 80 million followers “reckless things” — such as the notion that children are “essentially immune” from COVID-19 and his favorite cryptocurrencies — and blocking him on Twitter.
“Musk advocates free speech but in reality it’s just about power,” Reich said. “Power compelled Musk to buy $2.64bn of Twitter stock, making him the largest individual shareholder… What ‘improvements’ does Musk have in mind for Twitter? Will he use his clout over Twitter to prevent users with tens of millions of followers from blocking people who criticize them? I doubt it.”
Circling back to President Donald Trump, Reich bemoaned: “Will Musk use his clout to let Trump back on? I fear he will.”
Again listing Musk’s various controversies spurred by the use of his Twitter account — including his toying with the idea of taking Tesla private and his run-ins with journalists — Reich argued that Musk’s vision for an “uncontrolled” internet would lead to an increase in Musk’s own power.
“Musk says he wants to ‘free’ the internet. But what he really aims to do is make it even less accountable than it is now, when it’s often impossible to discover who is making the decisions about how algorithms are designed, who is filling social media with lies, who’s poisoning our minds with pseudo-science and propaganda, and who’s deciding which versions of events go viral and which stay under wraps,” Reich said.
“In Musk’s vision of Twitter and the internet, he’d be the wizard behind the curtain — projecting on the world’s screen a fake image of a brave new world empowering everyone,” Reich continued. “In reality, that world would be dominated by the richest and most powerful people in the world, who wouldn’t be accountable to anyone for facts, truth, science or the common good.”
“That’s Musk’s dream. And Trump’s. And Putin’s,” Reich concluded. “And the dream of every dictator, strongman, demagogue and modern-day robber baron on Earth. For the rest of us, it would be a brave new nightmare.”