Home / Opinion / Views /  A power loss led liberals to bemoan Musk’s Twitter buy
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It has been fun to watch the reactions to Elon Musk’s bid to buy Twitter over the last fortnight—from the widespread horror that greeted his offer to purchase the company and take it private to the high-decibel meltdowns that people had after Twitter succumbed.

Apparently, this is the end of free speech. Though, after the company’s board accepted his offer, Musk tweeted: “I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means." Though Musk’s proposals should actually enthuse people who truly believe in freedom of expression—like open-sourcing the platform’s algorithm for transparency and improvement and no censorship unless a tweet is against the law—no more vague “This post violates Twitter’s content rules".

But the self-attested ‘liberals’ of the world are oscillating between outrage and grief. Western media went into deep exploration mode to dig up years-old tweets by Musk to prove that he is an anarchist, a misogynist, and nastier than the Joker in The Dark Knight. Inevitably, the F-word was rolled out—Musk is a “fascist". Some people mentioned that he is a South African born in the times of apartheid. In the US, Democratic Party politicians expressed dismay.

Perhaps the stupidest reaction was that Musk should have used this money to alleviate world hunger and poverty and not buy a social media platform. This argument is too silly to be even worth a rejoinder.

Musk responded to all the fear and loathing with a tweet: “The extreme antibody reaction from those who fear free speech says it all."

On Wednesday, news broke about Twitter’s Indian-born chief legal officer Vijaya Gadde, in charge of the platform’s content moderation, weeping in a staff meeting while wondering how the company could change under Musk’s leadership. Among the many controversial decisions attributed to her was one to suspend the Twitter account of The New York Post, one of America’s most-read newspapers, during the 2020 US presidential campaign. The paper had carried a story about the big-money deals that Hunter Biden, son of then-presidential candidate Joe Biden, had struck with shady Chinese and Ukrainian companies.

Gadde suppressed information that would certainly have hurt Biden’s chances. This was an attempt to manipulate US election results, exactly what Russia’s Vladimir Putin was accused of doing in 2016. The news was correct and Hunter Biden is now being formally investigated by US federal authorities.

Musk has said that “suspending the Twitter account of a major news organization for publishing a truthful story was obviously incredibly inappropriate." There was outrage about this, and accusations that Musk was harassing Gadde. But former Twitterchief and co-founder Jack Dorsey had also said that the Post suspension was a “total mistake".

People who had claimed that Twitter had every right to censor speech as it wished because it was a private company are now in despair that it can take decisions… as a private company.

There are several issues here. One, left-liberals have had a great run for several years on Twitter, ever since the platform seemed to have decided to align itself with ‘progressive’ and anti-Donald Trump forces. Now they fear that they will lose that support. The funny thing is that Musk promises to bring more voices and more viewpoints to the service, which should actually hearten anyone who is a true liberal. The problem of course is that many ‘liberals’ of today support a cancel culture and want more censorship, not less.

Two, no one is really sure of Musk’s politics. His public utterances have often been erratic and contradictory. He seems to love making provocative statements, if only to get a laugh out of the reactions, and he is also willing to laugh at himself. Perhaps the only consistent thread one can discern in his thinking is that he believes in a free market and individual choice, though he also says that capitalism has a duty to create wealth for everyone in society. He does not appear to have any interest in money for money’s sake—he claims he does even own a house. In January 2021, when informed that he was now the richest man on the planet, he responded with a charming tweet: “How strange… Oh well, back to work."

Three, because he defies easy classification and his thinking does not even acknowledge the possible existence of a “box", he makes mundane humans uncertain and nervous. Though he had expressed his dissatisfaction with Twitter’s “rules" for years, very few people would have imagined that he would actually buy it, making one “best and final offer" and wrapping it up in 11 days. But that is Musk. It is natural that people would worry about his proprietary control of the platform, but they should also know that Mark Zuckerberg enjoys special voting rights in Meta that give him iron control over all board decisions.

All the moaning and groaning about Musk’s takeover is finally about loss of power. But that is the reality of markets, whether it is ships or sealing wax or soapboxes. Musk will probably soon own the soapbox through entirely legitimate means, and users who are disconcerted and want to leave the platform would be free to do so.

Tesla shares fell 9% on the announcement of the Twitter deal, partly because investors felt that now the electric vehicle company will lose some of Musk’s attention. That is the wonderful thing about markets. And we should let them decide.

Parmy Olson is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology

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