Why is Elon Musk buying Twitter?

The world’s richest man says he is buying Twitter to defend democracy and to protect freedom of expression. But there are no benevolent plutocrats.

Elon Musk Photographer: Getty Images/picture alliance
Musk is buying Twitter for $44bn not only because he is one of a few white men who can raise that astounding amount of money, but to feed his narcissism, writes Mitrovica [Getty Images/picture alliance]

A confession: I used to do Twitter, but I don’t do Twitter anymore.

I didn’t want to do Twitter. Ever.

I have lived a full and, for the most part, good life without having to share a moment of that full, and for the most part, good life on Twitter or any other social media platform.

These days, I am a Twitter unicorn.

Still, about nine years ago, an editor in Ottawa I wrote for encouraged me to join Twitter because a few journalists – his friends – asked, on Twitter, why I was not on Twitter.

He was eager to have me “push” my stuff on Twitter so I could generate “more traffic” and “hits” for my weekly column back then.

More “hits” meant “more traffic.” “More traffic” usually translated into more “followers” on Twitter. Attracting more “followers” was going to make him, me and my “followers” happy that I was on Twitter.

I did not need or want to find happiness on Twitter. The prospect of having “followers” was strange and off-putting. I didn’t want or need anyone to “follow” me online. Read me: yes, please. Follow me: no thanks.

Anyway, reluctantly, I agreed to set up an account and “push” my missives on Twitter.

Hey, I might have been rewarded with a blue check mark. Validation. Status. Clout. Twitter can transform you from a nobody into a somebody – instantly.

Twitter can also help you build your “brand”. Maybe someday you can leverage your “brand” to make money. Lots of big-name journalists do it. Good for them, I suppose. Goodness knows, with so many jobs going poof, journalists need other ways to make a living. I was not interested in turning myself into a brand.

At first, I thought Twitter was harmless. I wrote a column. I “pushed” the column on Twitter. Soon, people began to “follow” me. Over time, I netted more “followers” – some of whom wrote kind and thoughtful tweets about me and my column. Others did not.

Slowly, I began to get sucked into the disfiguring vortex of Twitter. If you are on Twitter, you probably know what I am referring to. It is that place and state of mind that you can descend into on Twitter – consciously or subconsciously.

I did.

It is not a happy place, at all. It is a surly, mean, often ugly place and space where you write and do things that you may or may not regret having written or done. Perhaps not in the moment, but later on, when, if you are lucky, you take time to think and reflect upon what you have written or become on Twitter.

Like so many others on Twitter, you lash out, you strike back, you turn nasty, you aim to prick people deeply.

They reply in sad, equal measure. Some use their real names, others hide behind a nom de guerre.

You begin to attract even more “followers” who enjoy it when you lash out, strike back, and are nasty to or aim to prick a common foe.

They applaud and urge you on. They “like” and “retweet” your tweets. It is fuel. So, you tweet and tweet until, one day, you look up and see that you have spent hours inside the vortex. So much wasted time. You could have spent that time doing something much more valuable and rewarding like reading a book or enjoying a moment of stillness.

Then, you understand that, in a way, you have become addicted to this ephemeral thing called Twitter. It is an unhealthy, destructive addiction. You cannot wean yourself off. You quit. Cold Turkey. You are done with Twitter. Your tweets and “followers” disappear into the ether like a dusty gust of wind.

You feel free.

By now, you may be wondering why I am sharing the mundane arc of my experience on Twitter with you.

Well, as you know, Twitter has a new owner – Elon Musk. He is, as you know, the richest man on earth. Musk says he bought Twitter to defend democracy and to protect freedom of expression. He wants, apparently, to “fix” Twitter.

Musk may be a “visionary” and a fabulous huckster, but he is a lousy fibber.

There are no benevolent plutocrats.

Musk is buying Twitter for $44bn not only because he is one of a few white men who can raise that astounding amount of money, but to feed his narcissism. It is the same corrosive strain of narcissism that made me stay on Twitter for as long as I did before I had a belated epiphany.

I also think that Musk is buying Twitter because he wants to be loved. The Beatles wrote that “money can’t buy me love”. I think Musk believes that, beyond power, Twitter can indeed buy him love.

Lately, Musk has been getting lots of love from people who use Twitter to hate on people, ideas and facts they detest – “liberals,” gays, minorities, scientists, doctors, journalists, and all sorts of anonymous people who fight injustice, inequality and lethal viruses, even kids who know the earth is burning up and want to do something about it.

That is, with an apologetic nod to Led Zeppelin, a whole lotta bad love.

It is true that many people who use Twitter try to do some good. It appears that Musk plans to “fix” Twitter by emboldening the haters who use Twitter to do damage and harm in the expedient name of “free speech.”

Sure, it is “free speech,” Mr Musk. It is hate speech, too. Every moment of every day. Day after day. On Twitter. Hate of women. Hate of immigrants. Hate of Black and brown people. Hate of people who want to love and marry people who they want to love and marry. Hate of love, charity, and knowledge. Hate of progress. Hate of democracy. Hate of anyone who does not think, act or look like them.

Admit it, Mr Musk, you are buying Twitter to defend hate speech. Right? I mean, you have to since what would Twitter be without the worldwide sewer of hate that is such an undeniable and defining aspect of your microblogging site, Mr Musk?

Take your time, Mr Musk. I can wait for your answers, if you will oblige a blue-check-mark-less nobody who abandoned Twitter long before you decided to buy it.

While I am waiting, I can remind you that the far-right loonies who have fallen madly in love with you have, in the last nine months, banned more than 1,500 books in school districts throughout the United States, including a graphic novel about the Holocaust.

Your response, as far as I can tell: Silence. Odd for America’s marquee and messianic saviour of “free speech”. On June 4, 2020, you did, however, tweet that it was “insane” for Amazon to ban a slim, self-published pamphlet that accused the mainstream media of “overstating the threat” of a virus that has killed almost one million Americans.

Ah, priorities.

And, come on, Mr Musk, admit it: like every other plutocrat, you need to buy a new toy when the irresistible urge strikes. The old toys – like your electric cars – inevitably lose their sheen and appeal. Even the richest man on earth gets bored. So, time for a new toy to feel that life-affirming burst of joy and attention – like riding a gleaming rocket into space.

Most of all, I think Musk is buying Twitter to make even more money. The “ideology” that guides the decisions that plutocrats like Musk make is not the defence of democracy or free speech. Oh, please. It is the pursuit of cash and its twin, influence – even if that means aiding and abetting a fascist demagogue to become president again.

If you believe laissez-faire capitalists like Musk are altruists then you likely believe, hand on heart, that America is a shining city on a hill.

Musk has got to get a return on his mammoth investment. If he doesn’t, he will lose money. Plutocrats do not like losing money.

The way to make money on Twitter is to get more people into the vortex I once inhabited. Then, you have to keep them there. Addicted. That means feeding the insatiable beast with more hate, more anger, more ignorance.

Just admit it, Mr Musk.

Your silly, sentimental, transparently fatuous defence of freedom and democracy is so unbecoming.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.