The Battle of the Century - Here’s what happens if Elon Musk buys Twitter (Revolver.news)
The Battle of the Century - Here’s what happens if Elon Musk buys Twitter
By: Darren Beattie
In 2021 Elon Musk created overnight millionaires by pushing the Dogecoin meme. In 2022, he may be gearing up for something far more dramatic. The world’s richest man might be on the cusp of launching a global crusade to restore freedom of speech.
Creating an alternative platform could be interesting, though several of these exist already.
Twitter remains, by Elon’s own admission, the de facto public town square. Despite its severe censorship, it is still the only major digital public space where anonymous accounts can interact with celebrities, journalists and business titans (including Elon), where world leaders engage in spirited public diplomacy, and where dominant cultural and political narratives incubate and spread.
The most exciting possibility is therefore the most obvious one: Musk should simply buy a controlling stake in Twitter itself. He could certainly afford it. At $31 billion, Twitter’s market cap is less than 15 percent of Musk’s current net worth. Even if one regards Twitter stock as entirely worthless, Musk could theoretically buy a controlling stake in it and still be the world’s richest man by fifty billion dollars, and free speech would be restored to the “land of the free.”
But in practice, it’s not that easy. In fact, one would be hard pressed to imagine a project more dangerous and difficult than restoring free speech to a major tech platform like Twitter. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine a more worthwhile project. Restoring genuine free speech would do more for patriotic Americans than the GOP taking back the White House in 2024, and it would pose a greater threat to the ruling Regime than anything Russia, China, or Iran might plausibly do.
Free speech online is what enabled the Trump revolution in 2016. If the Internet had been as free in 2020 as it was four years before, Trump would have cruised to reelection. Massive censorship and suppression are the tools needed to prop up Covid tyranny, the Ukraine war fever, and the idea that Lia Thomas is a “woman.” America’s decrepit and illegitimate ruling class intuitively understand this: Absolute freedom of speech, or even the speech norms that prevailed a mere decade ago, would instantly cause the American regime as we know it to crumble.
In short, transforming Twitter back into a real free speech platform would represent nothing less than a declaration of war against the Globalist American Empire.
To fully understand why this is so, it is crucial to understand that Twitter is anything but a conventional “private company.” A company like The Home Depot might have a market cap ten times as large as Twitter’s, yet in terms of power and influence, who controls Twitter is profoundly more consequential. Home Depot would probably not remove its best selling paint cans or cardboard boxes from the shelves. Twitter, on the other hand, deplatformed its most high profile user, Donald J. Trump, while he was the sitting President of the United States. This is only the most dramatic example of censorious policy changes that restrict information flow and profit for Twitter.
In 2020 Revolver explored the Tucker Carlson Paradox: Tucker Carlson Tonight is the most popular program in cable news, yet no other networks try to imitate its content. The reason, we argued, is that ratings (and by extension profitability) are not even the real point of major news outlets:
For a media empire operating at the highest levels, the influence it wields on the public’s mind is far more valuable to the ruling power structure than any self-contained profit that could be generated by optimizing their news product to suit the taste of the audience. This does not mean that profit is irrelevant to a media company. In Tucker’s case, his stratospheric ratings are a great tool of leverage, and without profit, a company must continually court new investors. But the point remains that for a serious media enterprise, profit is always secondary to influence.
The Tucker Carlson Paradox applies in its most extreme form to a platform like Twitter. Twitter’s market capitalization of barely $30 billion is extremely modest by Big Tech standards. Even Snapchat is twice as valuable. And yet, as the global public square, Twitter is also the epicenter of narrative formation, a key promotional vehicle for journalists and celebrities, and an increasingly critical stage for public diplomacy and hybrid warfare between state powers. Twitter gets to decide which “freedom fighters” deserve to have their slogans go viral and which “authoritarians” and “domestic terrorists” need to be suppressed and censored. Twitter’s relatively marginal market cap belies the existential threat it would pose to every dominant institution in the United States (including the national security apparatus) if it implemented a policy of real unfettered free speech.
If Elon Musk bought Twitter and did nothing more than return it to the speech norms it had ten years ago, that act alone would constitute a “national security threat.” The threat posed to America’s joke institutions and the clowns who run them would be, in fact, existential.
This is not to dissuade Musk from purchasing Twitter — just the opposite, in fact. Revolver points this out to demonstrate how bold a move it would be — one of the very few which, if successful, would be a genuine game changer rather than a fake and performative gesture.
But if Musk opts for the path of boldness and glory, he should be prepared for historic backlash from the regime. The entire system would mobilize against Twitter reflecting the same cancellation strategies the Regime systematically employs to control politicians, websites, major businesses, and even countries. Twitter would get the “George Floyd” treatment on steroids. The Regime would employ the “George Floyd” tool recently used to “cancel” Russia, but directed with laser-like focus on a single company and its lone brilliant, iconoclast leader.
Step 1: Blame the platform for its users.
The moment Twitter stopped telling users what they are supposed to think, elites would immediately treat Twitter as responsible for what all its users think and do. Twitter would be blamed for every so-called act of “racism” “sexism” and “transphobia” occurring on its platform. All of this would be presented not merely as a moral failure, but as an explicit danger. Last summer the Department of Homeland Security labeled “white supremacists” the top domestic terror threat. In February, DHS announced America was in a “heightened threat environment” due to “misinformation” and anti-vaccine rhetoric proliferating online.
If a Twitter user were involved in a shooting, or some sort of terrorist plot, the American national security apparatus would immediately mobilize against it as a “hotbed” of “terrorist extremism.” If the authorities couldn’t detect a genuine terrorist plot (however loosely construed) from one of Twitter’s millions of users, recent history shows that the FBI has little compunction over manufacturing one.
In many ways the playbook for this has already been written. When a gunman murdered eleven people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the Anti-Defamation League quickly placed collective blame on Gab simply because the shooter used the website, and directed hostile attention at the owner of Epik.com simply for agreeing to host Gab after its prior webhost cut off service. News sites wrote crackpot articles about whether Gab was legally liable for the massacre.
And, of course, there is the famous case of Parler. As Twitter censorship ramped up during the 2020 “racial reckoning,” Parler added millions of users. In the days after the November election, it was the most-downloaded app in the United States. By January 2021, it was up to 15 million regular users. It was becoming a real, viable alternative to Twitter. So the press and Big Tech retaliated. Articles equating Parler with “hate speech” proliferated.
When the events of January 6 happened, the ground had already been prepared to nuke Parler, and the decisive attack was instantaneous. Protesters first breached the Capitol building around 2:00 p.m., and by 4:41 the New York Times had already blamed Parler for it. Within three days, the narrative had hardened: Parler was responsible for any criminal activity by its users, and deserved collective punishment for it.
In a letter to Parler on Saturday, Amazon said that it had sent the company 98 examples of posts on its site that encouraged violence and that many remained active. “It’s clear that Parler does not have an effective process to comply with” Amazon’s rules, the company said in the letter. Amazon “provides technology and services to customers across the political spectrum, and we continue to respect Parler’s right to determine for itself what content it will allow on its site. However, we cannot provide services to a customer that is unable to effectively identify and remove content that encourages or incites violence against others.” On Friday, Apple gave Parler 24 hours to clean up its app or face removal from its App Store. Parler appeared to take down some posts over that period, but on Saturday, Apple told the company its measures were inadequate. “We have always supported diverse points of view being represented on the App Store, but there is no place on our platform for threats of violence and illegal activity,” Apple said in a statement. [NYT]
This process doesn’t need to be rapid; it can take effect slowly. For a more subtle model of how this demonization operates, a March 28 New York Times article targeting alternative video platform Rumble is illustrative of the initial stages of a cancellation effort:
You won’t find Red Pill News or the X22 Report on YouTube anymore. The far-right online shows were taken down in the fall of 2020 after the major social media and tech companies started purging accounts that spread the QAnon conspiracy theory. But you will find both of them on a video-sharing platform called Rumble, where their content ranks among the most popular on the site. … “There is something very significant about Rumble that I don’t think people appreciate,” said Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, the liberal media watchdog. Mr. Carusone said the painstaking work that went into persuading Facebook, Google and Twitter to be more aggressive about policing fake and inciting content prevented a lot of it from breaking through to a wider audience. “Rumble basically changes that game,” he added.
The article is classic Times passive-aggression. It remains mostly descriptive, yet a clear structure is being built to justify a more far-reaching attack on Rumble’s existence. This isn’t some solo project by the Times, either. When YouTube banned the Russia-affiliated news channel RT, Engadget found it worth an article just to write about the channel’s rebirth on Rumble:
Russia’s RT is facing numerous bans and restrictions following the country’s invasion of Ukraine, and it’s using a familiar tactic to get around them: move to a laissez-faire service. The state-supported media company has made its around-the-clock livestream available on the “free speech” platform Rumble. This will theoretically let devotees tune in when its broadcasts and social media posts aren’t accessible elsewhere … Rumble, like Gab and Parler, has lately served as a haven for right-wing personalities who’ve been kicked off other platforms or feel their content is restricted elsewhere. Fox News host Dan Bongino, for instance, moved to Rumble after YouTube banned him over COVID-19 misinformation.
But criticism of Parler began the same way, and soon enough it was destroyed by more direct methods when the time was ripe.
2. Coordinated pressure campaign
Once Musk’s new free-speech Twitter is established as a bad actor, a vast constellation of activists and non-profits will lurch into action to put more and more pressure on the company to change its ways.
These sorts of attacks should be familiar, as they were used to bring Twitter in line with the censorship regime years ago. In 2011, Twitter was branding itself “the free speech wing of the free speech party.” Five years later, recurring purges had begun. What happened? Among other things, powerful left-wing activist groups besieged the company for years. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was one such ideological pressure group. It put out reports faulting Twitter for the existence of anti-Semitism and other -isms on its platform, then used friendly media reporters to amplify them and, essentially, state its demands.
Buzzfeed reported on it at the time:
Last month’s ADL report found that between August 2015 and July 2016 roughly 2.6 million anti-Semitic tweets were broadcast on Twitter, creating more than 10 billion impressions across the web. Of those tweets, 19,253 were directed at journalists. Among its concerns, the report suggested hate speech targeting journalists was creating a chilling effect that could hurt their freedom to report and investigate. “We’re already seeing this spread into the real world and mainstreaming in a way we’ve never seen in our over–100-year history as an organization,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt told BuzzFeed News. For social media platforms — the ADL singles out Twitter in particular — the new report says the mechanisms for reporting must be more efficient and clear for users. This includes cultural context training to allow reviewers to keep up with the ever-changing tactics of trolls, and better reporting systems that allow users to flag offensive content once, rather than every time it pops up.
Greenblatt’s wording was deliberate; by calling Twitter’s “mainstreaming” of anti-Semitism the worst seen in the ADL’s history, he was accusing Twitter of enabling a flare-up worse than the prelude to the Holocaust. The message: Play ball, or be ready to be put in league with Nazis.
The gambit worked, and by 2021 Greenblatt was essentially gloating over how thoroughly he brought Twitter to heel, while still signaling that more submission was expected.
If Musk or any other billionaire tried to steer Twitter back in a real free speech direction, the old threats would return and then increase a hundredfold.
The ADL is far from the only danger. The Atlantic Council, an interventionist think-tank funded by Raytheon, Boeing, Facebook, Burisma, and the UAE (among many others), also operates a Digital Forensics Lab whose job is to label online activities “foreign meddling” and “disinformation” in order to censor things the American ruling class doesn’t like. In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there will be a new element to it: A true free speech platform wouldn’t just be smeared as “racist,” but also as a “national security threat” by virtue of giving a forum to designated foreign and domestic enemies of the regime. A U.S. senator already accused Tulsi Gabbard of treason for “parroting” Russian “propaganda.” It isn’t remotely beyond the pale to imagine such charges being thrown at the leader of a free-speech Twitter as well.
Even corporate America can get in on the game. In summer 2020 Facebook experienced a massive ad boycott because its already-restrictive censorship practices were not strict enough. Participants included Coca-Cola, Pfizer, Target, Verizon, and hundreds of others. And it worked: By August Facebook was banning all pages allegedly tied to QAnon, by October it had banned Holocaust denial, and in January it was ready to join in the systematic destruction of President Trump’s presence online.
Step 3: Exodus of the Bluechecks
Over time, more and more pressure will be brought to bear. It will become an “activist” behavior to performatively delete one’s account (perhaps after writing a tweet-threat denunciation). As such campaigns go, it will start with a few professional agitators, then ideologically-aligned journalists and celebrities, then lawmakers, and finally major corporations and anybody just looking to avoid trouble.
Eventually, maintaining a Twitter account will become like publicly supporting Donald Trump, defending J.K. Rowling, or donating to Kyle Rittenhouse: Legal, but not the sort of thing done by a person who cares about their career.
For American nationalists, the first thought might be “Good riddance. Left-wing activists and journalists are unbearable.” This is misguided, though. What made Twitter so valuable and useful at its peak was that it really was a pan-ideological public square. It was (and, to a much lesser degree, still is) the only place where real dissidents and even ordinary people can directly and critically engage with the “bluecheck class.” Twitter, in a nutshell, was the place where a top reporter at the Washington Post or the former head of the CIA could be humiliated by an anonymous person with a cartoon frog avatar. When the bluechecks leave, the free speech platform might survive, but Twitter will have lost its special magic.
With the exodus of bluechecks also goes the exodus of advertisers. That’s not necessarily because ordinary American consumers actually care. Advertising itself, on the other hand, may be the most willingly ideological field in corporate America.
Step 4: Deplatforming
Think Twitter is too big to ever take down? Think again. If America’s ruling class acting in concert can silence a sitting United States president they are capable of cutting off virtually anything. Twitter itself has shown how it can be done, by simply banning links to web content it doesn’t want shared. In 2020, Twitter blocked links to the New York Post’s bombshell Hunter Biden story. The same year, Facebook blocked all links to Unz.com.
The same tools can absolutely be used against a new, free-speech Twitter. If Facebook blocked Twitter links and Google deranked its search results, the company would suffer huge hits to its traffic and bottom line. Media outlets could stop embedding or even linking Twitter threads as a protest against the platform’s “hate” or “extremism.”
Once again, the playbook has already been written, by the example made of Parler after January 6. Within four days of the Capitol incursion, both Apple and Google banned Parler from their app stores, and Amazon cut off its web hosting services. The fact that Parler finally returned more than a month later only drives home how successful the attack was. Parler didn’t even have to be totally destroyed to become totally irrelevant.
And if deplatforming isn’t enough, there is always the path of direct government action, via regulation or more thuggish tactics. Even if America doesn’t act, its satellites easily could. Europe has banned Sputnik and RT for being Russian propaganda. It could easily do the same to Twitter if it becomes too free for the increasingly unfree West to tolerate.
The above scenarios barely constitute the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the dirty tricks the Regime could employ to destroy a hypothetically free-speech twitter.
None of the above is meant to dissuade Elon musk or any other brave billionaire from purchasing Twitter and liberating America’s digital public square. The path above is not certain, and while the American security state is powerful, it is also incompetent, and anything but invincible. The Globalist American Empire will never be brought down unless people like Elon Musk are ready to step up to the plate with genuinely bold, risky, and meaningful moves like buying and liberating Twitter.
But it will not be easy. It will be a war. Let the battle begin.