The news is that, barring any surprises, the entrepreneur Elon Musk will take over the complete ownership of "Twitter" for the sum of 44 billion dollars. The acquisition process will probably take months to finalize, but it has already stirred up a hornet's nest. Musk, in fact, has motivated the decision not only with profit, but also with the defense of free speech. To understand how the acquisition has taken shape - and what consequences it may have on politics - it is necessary to take a step back.
The Babylon Bee affair
In the beginning it was Rachel Levine, Assistant Secretary for Health in the Biden Administration, a pediatrician by profession. Rachel Levine is actually Richard, who was born 65 years ago and lived the first 54 years of his life as a man (including marrying a woman and having children). Although he doesn't hesitate to exploit his private life, presenting himself as "the first transgender" to have held this or that office, he maintains a strict confidentiality on certain intimate details: that is, we don't know if he/she has undergone surgery (and is a transsexual), or if he/she simply self-identifies as a woman and dresses like one (and is "a transgender" or, as they used to say, "a transvestite").
After becoming a 4-star admiral without ever having served in the armed forces (the appointment is a result of combining the government position with joining the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps), Richard/Rachel Levine was also named "Woman of the Year" by "USA Today" without being a woman.
This last fact provoked some mischievous jokes, including one from "Babylon Bee", a right-wing satirical website, which responded by naming Rachel Levine "man of the year". Such a joke violated one of the commandments of North American progressivism: avoid misgendering. This term refers to the attribution of a male pronoun to a man who self-identifies as a woman, or vice versa. In the U.S. it is (still) just a fad, but in Justin Trudeau's Canada it is a real crime. Twitter, taking the place of the judges, immediately issued its verdict, suspending the account (with 1.3 million followers) of Babylon Bee.
As it happens, one admirer of Babylon Bee's satire is Elon Musk himself. Last December, he granted the site a long and friendly chat (in which, among other things, he called wokism "a mental virus").
After the suspension of the Babylon Bee account, Musk called Seth Dillon, administrator of the satirical site, to inquire about the affair. On that occasion, for the first time he ventilated the hypothesis of buying Twitter.
What are Musk's political views?
We don't know much about Musk's political positioning. Or rather: we know his opinion on several issues, but it is not easy to categorize them univocally between left and right. We know, for example, that he is very sensitive to the issue of climate change or that he is critical of lockdowns. He has a charitable foundation, but unlike other billionaires who donate full-handedly to ideologized groups (almost always left-wing) the money goes mainly to scientific research or school education. Probably Musk is not right-wing and, even if he was, he is smart enough to know that, in these western lands, not even the richest man in the world could declare himself as such and go unpunished. What is certain, however, is that Musk has ideas that do not conform to those of the dominant left-wing thinking, and for this reason he has a sincere interest in free speech.
This is after all the crucial point. To see if the new owner will keep faith with the expressed intentions and guarantee the neutrality of Twitter, to date a company militant in the progressive leftist camp.
Expectations seem to be going in that direction. While several right-wing commentators who had abandoned (by choice or by force) Twitter are already returning to it, other left-wingers are threatening to unsubscribe because they do not tolerate that opinions different from their own can be freely expressed.
Possible political implications
Nearly 60 percent of the world's population uses social networks on the Internet. Excluding children and those living in regions with little or no Internet connectivity, the percentage must be far more significant among politically active segments of the Western population.
Since the radio and television system has insurmountable entry thresholds for most people, and since "physical" sociality (meeting in the square, at the bar or in a tavern to discuss) is becoming rarefied, today social networks are the great public agora in which most of the debate takes place. Precisely for this reason it is highly problematic, from a democratic point of view, the ideological, censorial and arbitrary conduct that these social networks have - all in favor of the same ideology.
Even if Musk restores Twitter's neutrality, it can be expected that Facebook, Instagram, YouTube will instead remain aligned and militant in favor of the Left. However, one must consider that Twitter has 400 million users, more than half of whom are active on a daily basis: these numbers could grow larger with the new line, for example by attracting users unhappy with Facebook censorship. The second consideration to make is that Twitter is the most "political" platform. Facebook, by conformation and for some years now also by business choice, is mainly used by common people to discuss their daily life. Twitter is more suitable for use by political commentators and influencers. Giving back a tribune to the many right-wing voices previously "deplatformed" will already be an excellent service to pluralism.
Then there is another possibility that is tempting. As mentioned earlier, so many people on the left are threatening to leave Twitter if it loses its partisan nature.
It could happen, this time on the left and more by choice than by compulsion, that exodus of right-wing users who have moved from Twitter to other platforms. Right-wing users, finding equal preclusions in all the most established platforms, have migrated to others created ad hoc to welcome them: Gab, Parler, Gettr, Truth. They have the undoubted merit of offering an online landing place to those banned from the main networks, but the effect remains that of ghettoizing right-wing voices in exclusive and uniform environments. This, in addition to fostering dangerous "echo chambers", also prevents communicating with (and converting to) people who are not already "with us".
If many left-wing users decided to leave Twitter, it would confer a great advantage to the Right. In fact, the mass of unaligned (or unideologized) users, just as they did not follow the exodus of conservatives to Parler or Gettr, would not follow that of progressives to other platforms. Sure: the Left has the advantage of being able to land on already established platforms, such as Facebook, but it is to be hoped that its extremism will lead it to disdain even the social network of the never entirely loved Zuckerberg, choosing instead someone more marginal or openly partisan such as Mastodon or CounterSocial.
I know: we are used to hysterical reactions from the left, with the usual folks who threaten (?) to emigrate if the right wins the election, but then never do. We could be facing another such flash in the pan. But it's one thing to organize a difficult transfer abroad, another to make the few clicks necessary to deactivate an account. Given the simplicity of the operation, they might finally live up to their expressed intention. And make so an involuntary but enormous gift to the Right in the informative and culture war.
Founder and President of Centro Studi Machiavelli. Graduated in Historical Sciences (University of Milan) and PhD in Political Studies (Sapienza University), he is professor of "History and doctrine of jihadism" and "Geopolitics of the Middle East" at Cusano University. From 2018 to 2019 he was Special Advisor on Immigration and Terrorism to the Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Guglielmo Picchi. His latest book (as editor) is Topicality of sovereignism. Between pandemic and war.
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