ThoughtStorms Wiki

Context: ElonMusk, Twitter, LibertarianToFascistPipeline

Good thread by ThomasZimmer (quoted entirely below, CategoryCopyrightRisk)


Thoughts on Twitter, Musk, and the destruction of the virtual public square.   The end may be near. No amount of snark or schadenfreude will change the fact that this situation is a disaster. Twitter has always been a mess - but also a crucial instrument to democratize America.

There are two distinct, but intertwined issues here: There is the fact that a tech oligarchy, animated by an inherently anti-democratic worldview, holds so much power; and there is, more specifically, the threat to the world's most important political communications platform.

In general, from a democratic perspective, it's highly problematic that these tech oligarchs are amassing so much power and influence. They are not democratically controlled in any way, there are no checks and balances, they are not guided by any concern for the public good.

What is happening here is not politically neutral. Musk has been on a rightward trajectory for quite some time, he shares all the reactionary moral panic concerns over "wokeism" and "Cancel Culture" - a big reason why he wanted to control Twitter in the first place.

It is not a coincidence that the Right - the Trumpist Right, specifically - is cheering Musk on. If someone has the enthusiastic support of those who want to undermine and abolish democracy, it is probably fair to assume that there is cause for concern.

Musk is yet another example of the libertarian-to-far-right-pipeline. Peter Thiel is probably the most striking example of this - a stark reminder that these types of libertarians have always been driven by a desire for freedom from regulation of any kind to do as they please.

Thiel and Musk believe that the world works best if people like them are in charge, get to do whatever they want to do, unhampered by regulations or demands for equality - because they are convinced that their personal interest is identical with the interest of humanity itself.

It's an inherently anti-democratic worldview that tracks very well with the reactionary political project of maintaining traditional hierarchies. This is what is pulling these people to the Right, why they eventually gravitate towards autocratic regimes at home and abroad.

And now that inherently anti-democratic, anti-egalitarian worldview is animating the man in charge of the world's most important political communications platform, a virtual public square functioning as an essential part of democratic culture.

Twitter could have been, should have been, so much better. But casually dismissing the platform as "not real life" has always been silly - its enormous influence on the broader public, media, and political discourses is undeniable.

As @RVAwonk points out, Twitter has functioned as an indispensable communication tool in disaster and emergency situations - on a global scale. The potential loss of that alone is highly problematic. And that's before we take into account the platform's democratizing effects.

Twitter established a conversation between people in powerful positions to shape the political and public imaginary - because they are journalists, or politicians, or public figures - and people who would otherwise never have access to those levels of influence.

For instance, Twitter allowed people from the academic world to share with a broader audience what they think and observe - and thereby inject their analysis and commentary into the public debate to an entirely unprecedented degree.

Most importantly, Twitter has been instrumental in amplifying the voices, demands, and the critique of traditionally marginalized groups. That's where it really demonstrated its democratizing potential.

Much of the moral panic over "cancel culture" is a reaction to precisely this: Traditionally marginalized groups have gained enough influence and, crucially, have acquired the technological means to affect the political debate.

Twitter has been crucial in this uphill struggle of traditionally marginalized groups to finally make their demands heard, be able to extract a political cost for certain discriminatory speech and behavior: a tool for organizing, a platform, a global amplifier.

Twitter has enabled people with absolutely no traditional access to power to speak to powerful elites directly, criticize them in the public square. How valuable this has been is evidenced by the fact that many of those elites are so consistently bemoaning "persecution."

To the extent that traditional societal elites - and elite white men, in particular - face a little more scrutiny today than in the past, that they have been deprived of their supposed "right" to unquestioned deference and affirmation, Twitter has helped democratize public life.

Losing this will hurt - hurt the attempts to finally make America live up to the promise of egalitarian multiracial pluralism, to become the democracy it never has been yet. That those elected to safeguard democracy have seemingly cared little about this is a massive failure.

Finally, there is this: White male hero worship of the worst kind. The message here seems to be that we'll just have to live with the damage these tech oligarchs cause - and be grateful for all the wonders with which they are supposedly blessing the world. No, no, no.

This type of sacrifice at the altar of the white male genius is so toxic. Artists, entrepreneurs, inventors - let us no longer suspend the rules for them, enable them, make vulnerable people pay the price for their awfulness. This needs to stop. We need to hold them accountable.

For those who are concerned about the seemingly impending destruction of the virtual public square, let me add: We just discussed Musk, Twitter's importance, and the libertarian-to-far-right tech oligarchy's anti-democratic project in the new episode of @USDemocracyPod:

Addendum: I'm getting a lot of "Musk and Thiel are just greedy narcissists" responses. Sure. But there is also a clear political valence to what they do. They are part of an anti-democratic political project. De-contextualizing and de-politicizing that underestimates the threat.

This thread, and an unrelated tweet about the same topic QTed below, have sparked by far the most, the angriest, the most abusive responses I have ever gotten - a parade of Trumpists and Musk worshippers, all basically making the same angry point: "Twitter belongs to us now!"

Almost without exception, these responses have come in the form of racist, sexist, misogynistic slurs, mostly directed at my supposed lack of manliness, something with which these people seem entirely obsessed. A raging mob feeling enabled to act out their aggressions.

A few things stood out as interesting. The attacks have been remarkably similar: The same slurs, the same memes, over and over again. A testament, I'd say, to how quickly the rightwing propaganda machine can mobilize rage, and the level of directed groupthink that is the result.

To the extent there was an actual "argument" being made, it was this (and I'm giving you a rare example that doesn't come with a sexist slur): Before Musk, Twitter was supposedly a liberal propaganda machine, banning conservatives - now, finally, there will be "free speech."

Most people who say this are probably just parroting bad-faith propaganda lines. But if we take it seriously for a moment, it is incredibly revealing of an underlying worldview that is driving much of the Right and is animating the reactionary political project.

Were conservatives banned from pre-Musk Twitter? Of course not. But some of the most toxic racist, misogynistic, conspiratorial accounts were - with Trump being the most high-profile case. Instead of drawing a line, the Right embraces these extremists as "conservatives."

This is emblematic of the entire reactionary "free speech" and "cancel culture" talk: It always deals in vague abstractions - "banning conservatives" - because once you start asking about the substance of those "conservative" opinions, it gets dicey really, really fast.

Finally, there is the assumption that any institution or platform that is not dominated by the Right must have a discriminatory liberal bias against conservatives. It is unthinkable for rightwingers to exist in a space that allows traditionally marginalized groups an equal voice.

That's the dark heart of the reactionary political project: It is fundamentally anti-democratic, anti-pluralistic. For rightwingers, there are only two ways to handle egalitarian pluralism: Retreat entirely from society - or, more often, attack and restore reactionary domination.

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