Elon Musk, Credit — Steve Jurvetson
This week, the wealthiest man on earth spent $44 billion to purchase Twitter. Elon Musk, best known for founding Tesla and SpaceX (and posting inflammatory content on Twitter), decided to buy the entire social media platform in a massive power grab disguised as an attempt to bring “free speech” to its users.
Twitter, like other social media giants, exercises huge influence over the information available to the public by determining what shows up on users’ feeds, what type of content is allowed to be posted in the first place, and who is allowed to post. As such, it is a potent weapon to influence public opinion. Similar to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post in 2013, Elon Musk hopes to turn his obscene wealth into the power to shape how people view himself and the political issues most important to him.
Musk surpassed Bezos in wealth this year, now holding a net worth of almost $265 billion. Born into a wealthy family in apartheid South Africa, Musk has amassed this wealth through decades of highly questionable business ventures only made possible by huge injections of cash by speculative investors and billions of dollars in government subsidies. Initiatives like Tesla Motors, SpaceX, and The Boring Company have all promised outlandish solutions to social problems — ranging from underground tunnels for electric cars to the colonization of Mars.
Musk has maintained much of his legitimacy through support from various politicians, fellow wealthy capitalists, and even NASA – which partnered with SpaceX shortly after its founding. And he has also consciously cultivated a base of fervent fans who treat the billionaire with a Trump-like reverence.
It is outrageous that a single man can spend over $40 billion at one time seemingly on a whim. Musk could not have amassed his wealth without the help of an economic order where a tiny handful of people enjoy unbelievable wealth and luxury while the vast majority struggle to survive. This obscene display of wealth and power is emblematic of the capitalist system as a whole.
Like other capitalist oligarchs, Musk wants to control political discourse – and hopes to make money in the process. Social media has dramatically changed the way the world communicates and how ideas spread, making the major social media platforms key institutions in society. Instead of being privately owned by a tiny number of extraordinarily rich investors, they should be treated as a public utility. This way, neither the pursuit of profit or the political whims of billionaires will interfere with the public’s right to fairly access and utilize the key technological advances of modern society.