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It’s not easy for me to write this column since I regularly write about processes and ideas, but I rarely write about people, and when I have, it’s more about political actors. Also, I have a rather distant relationship with activist billionaires. I respect their decision to use their legitimately acquired money however they wish, even to satisfy their egos, but their arrogance in trying to impose their ideas on the rest of the world scares me.
I find the use of large amounts of money for personal agendas unhealthy for democracy, as it becomes a dangerous pursuit of power, made possible by a personal checkbook. Furthermore, they are a novelty, since in the past the monopolists only defended their interests, while these billionaires also want to impose their particular vision on humanity.
I understand that the Russian or Ukrainian oligarchs can cause fear to many people, because I was afraid of those who used their power to censor opinions that they did not like, with something as dangerous as an official truth in topics as changing as those related to a new virus such as Covid-19. Sometimes I got the impression that the negotiations of some with the Chinese hierarchs led them to try to imitate them in the West, which was ratified when they censured none other than the President of the United States.
I had heard of Elon Musk, but I really started to get interested when he offered to buy Twitter since I am a user of the network. I know that he owns many other companies and that he was recently displaced from the position of the richest in the world, and I have no idea nor do I care if he is going to make or lose money with Twitter since I find it in bad taste to get into other people’s pockets.
I know that he has been investigated and is being investigated now for this and other investments, without being convicted or sanctioned. I have also read his opinion on Ukraine-Russia peace, showing great naivety, to say the least.
The real interest arose the day I read that he was doing it for the defense of freedom of expression, something that separated him and many of his colleagues (and competitors) in wealth. I applauded that he did it in the name of that freedom, something of the greatest importance to me, since that legacy of the Enlightenment is a key element in the two pillars through which I guide my life, the defense and promotion of democracy and human rights.
Indeed, in their modern version, both are tributes to the Enlightenment, and just as the Chinese cultural revolution of the last century was a great attempt to erase the Confucian influence, in what is now happening in the West, I see that there is a strong intention to erase the heritage of the Enlightenment, starting with this systematic attack on freedom of expression, including the cancel culture along with moral superiority and the rejection of those who think differently as an equal in the democratic debate.
Now, let’s remember that Twitter, like other large technology companies, has privileges that reflect that optimistic era of the late 20th century, when it was thought that the internet was the new agora, the public square of the classical Greeks, and that through section 230 of the US communications law allows them to avoid -unlike older technologies such as radio and TV- being responsible for the content and being taken to court.
Hypocrisy reached a superlative level when the UN warns Elon Musk about freedom of expression, the same institution that has in its Human Rights Council some of the most notorious violators of those rights and of that and other freedoms. And it is no joke.
I had the feeling that he was serious when he delivered information about how Twitter organized censorship, accompanying emails and internal memos, despite the obvious damage, in, for example, the hit and run of advertisers.
Also, I wonder, is it true that in the USA there was coordination with other companies and nothing less than with the FBI, as has been denounced? I don’t know, but it’s worth finding out. I can even accept that there have been company policies that today are considered unacceptable, but never that it has been hidden from users.
I am very far from adhering to conspiracy theories of any nature, and although this news circulated in some political sectors, today there are such antecedents to wonder about the effects on democracy and on the very concept of a republic, above all, for dealing with the United States, although now questions are also being raised for other countries.
The truth is that I don’t like what is emerging, because of its effect on democracy, which I conceive as the best-known system for leading societies and resolving conflicts peacefully. I don’t like this pairing with political parties, neither in the West nor with the Chinese Communist Party.
In addition, several of these large technology companies are hypocritical. They are frequent critics of impeccably democratic countries, but they are completely silent about what is happening in China, a hypocrisy that is also present in his attitude towards Muslim regimes. And not only technology companies, but also, prominently, Hollywood and the NBA, the best basketball league.
Perhaps Musk is used to fighting within large companies, which, from what is generally known, are strong and merciless, with seasoned and tough adversaries, but the truth is that now he is entering a scenario that is supposed to be unknown to him.
He must already be taking some of this medicine, since the double standard with which some political leaders have received what he has done on Twitter is striking, compared to the silence that was present when there was selective censorship. The most worrying thing is that, apparently, this attitude was also present in some of the media, which leads one to wonder what is happening in the polarized United States, and what happened with the first amendment that made them so proud.
Perhaps Elon Musk will get bored, or Twitter will become a different platform, but considering the hypocrisy and the double standard of those attacking him, today I wish that all that is being revealed from the old regime is investigated, and that I hope he succeeds in making Twitter better than it was.
Since he took over, there have been personal decisions by Musk and/or the company that I have not liked, such as the blocking of the account that tracked his personal plane, but I believe the promise of Musk to respect free speech.
This article is part of an agreement between El American and the Interamerican Institute for Democracy.
Ricardo Israel es un reconocido escritor, bogado, analista político y académico chileno. Fue candidato presidencial de su país en 2013. Actualmente hace parte del directorio del Interamerican Institute for Democracy // Ricardo Israel is a renowned Chilean writer, lawyer, political analyst and academic. He was a presidential candidate in his country in 2013. He is currently a member of the board of directors of the Interamerican Institute for Democracy