by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Editors at National Review Online assess the impact of Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover.
We’ve passed through two political eras of social media, and the purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk starts a third one.
A decade ago, social-media companies were hailed in the tech press and across the mainstream media as forces for progress. Twitter was assisting the Green Revolution in Iran. The 2012 Obama campaign’s vast data-harvesting across Facebook “blew through an alarm that their engineers hadn’t planned for or knew about,” according to accounts at the time. Silicon Valley and the data mavens at progressives’ campaigns were hailed as geniuses.
And then Donald Trump started tweeting. After the 2016 shocks of Brexit and Trump’s election, social-media companies were cast as villains. Watching the full weight of the political world fall onto the Valley, historian Niall Ferguson warned, “Make no mistake, 2016 will never happen again.” Social-media companies were blamed for spreading “misinformation.” Conservative-aligned data firms who had done just a fraction of the data-harvesting done by Obama 2012 were portrayed as part of shadowy, privacy-threatening conspiracies. President Obama personally scolded Mark Zuckerberg. We were told that Russia used these companies to hack the brains of suggestible yokels, and that only wise superintendence of social-media conversation by progressives could save the world from fascism. All social-media companies took the lesson and began hiring new fact-checkers and censors out of the progressive media. Facebook brought an arch-Remainer and anti-populist politician on as its head of global affairs.
The result was a moral panic about misinformation, and the creation of unofficial partnerships between government agencies and Silicon Valley’s internal “safety” boards. As we discovered during the pandemic, the government began suggesting what kind of tweets and posts they wanted to see. …
… Musk is certainly no conservative icon, and we are especially unnerved by his close business ties to China, one of the world’s most oppressive enemies of free speech. But there is reason to wish Musk well.