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Rights advocates, public health experts, and media critics were among those on Monday who warned that the purchase of Twitter by mega-billionaire Elon Musk, the world’s richest person, creates a direct threat to democracy and the common good by putting the outsized power of the social media platform used by hundreds of millions worldwide into the hands of one man.
The social media company accepted Musk’s offer to purchase Twitter for $44 billion, or $54.20 per share—leading some critics to note other ways the enormous sum of money could have been spent rather than on what Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.) called “a vanity project boondoggle to silence” Musk’s critics.
“Tax the rich,” Garcia said on Twitter.
Musk’s purchase has led to concern that former President Donald Trump’s Twitter account will be reinstated. Trump was banned from the platform in January 2021 after violating its rules by inciting his followers to violently attack the U.S. Capitol in an effort to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election results.
“With control of such a massive platform comes great responsibility—and Musk hasn’t shown he has the capacity to be accountable to this diverse online community.”
“Musk hasn’t just purchased another expensive play toy, but a global online community that includes about 330 million regular users,” said Jessica Gonzalez, co-CEO of Free Press.
“With control of such a massive platform comes great responsibility—and Musk hasn’t shown he has the capacity to be accountable to this diverse online community,” she added, noting Musk’s own history of using Twitter to “intimidate and disparage others, including journalists, elected officials, owners of competing businesses and anyone else who might challenge his views.”
With Musk at the helm, said Gonzalez, Twitter must improve its content moderation practices and “stop amplifying bigotry and conspiracy theories that pollute public discourse, threaten the health and safety of users, and undermine democracy.”
Musk has criticized Twitter’s efforts to moderate the platform, saying early this month that he believes “it’s just really important that people have the reality and the perception that they’re able to speak freely within the bounds of the law” and that “the civilizational risk is decreased the more we can increase the trust of Twitter as a public platform.”
Journalist Anand Giridharadas said that by taking over Twitter and claiming he’ll protect the platform as “the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” Musk is “doing is what plutocrats have been doing… branding themselves the solution to the very problem they are.”
“This isn’t just some corporate takeover,” said Giridharadas. “This is about a set of very specific moves that our oligarchs have been taking that have gradually concentrated economic, political, and discursive power in fewer and fewer hands.”
As Media Matters reported Monday, right-wing politicians in the U.S. have been in favor of Musk’s purchase since he first offered to buy the platform earlier this month. On Friday, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) led 18 House Republicans in writing to Twitter’s board of directors, demanding that the board preserve all records related to Musk’s bid.
“The right’s propagandists had celebrated Musk’s bid as a way to garner political gain by ending the company’s purported political censorship,” reported senior fellow Matt Gertz. “Then its elected GOP champions, responding to hesitation from and when Twitter’s board, raised the prospect of a costly congressional investigation if his offer wasn’t accepted.”
While Twitter was a large and powerful company before Musk’s takeover was announced, said Sana Saeed of Al Jazeera, the purchase “does underscore an unnerving trend—the ability of a single man to purchase something that impacts hundreds of millions (beyond users) in order to influence it in his own image.”
“It’s less than great when billionaires own sports teams—which bind communities together—as their playthings,” said Robert Weissman, president of consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. “Having a billionaire own Twitter—a vital platform for communication and community—as his plaything is far more serious. It’s a real threat to democracy.”