Citizen Musk | The nation

Citizen Musk |  The nation

Elon, we knew you all too well. Elon Musk, the failed emperor of Twitter, is apparently set to step down from his high seat after he issued a user survey asking whether he should stay on as head of the company. The poll emerged after yet another series of confused miscommunications and abuses on the site — from the random suspension of the stories of Musk-critical journalists on the trumped-up charge of doxxing Musk’s real-time whereabouts to an abrupt ban on advertising links to other social media platforms — that alienated even his former supporters. It was hardly surprising that the vote ended up well in the “Leave” column.

Musk being Musk – i.e. a Silicon Valley manchild who has deluded himself into thinking of himself as an intergalactic genius – he could very well reverse his position in a matter of days, or hire a few more journalists who are about to revive his fantasies about space. -cum-Internet conquest. In the short term, however, digital plebs are left to ponder some variation of “What the hell our that?” as they sort through the rubble of Musk’s six-week tour as Twitter boss.

Much of the concern over Musk’s stewardship of Twitter hinged on a fallacy: the starry-eyed belief that Twitter and allied social media platforms are an inherently leveling force in public discourse. Lamenting the old Twitter order, users were heard praising its ability to put ordinary people in touch with the powerful, rich and influential on a more or less equal playing field for debate. Some evoked the memory of the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 – a kind of founding myth for the preachers of the gospel of social media-as-democracy, although old-fashioned union organizing played a much more prominent role in the protests, and the global order after the Arab Spring has not matured into a summer of democratic self-rule.

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While the exercise of online democracy may unseat Musk himself, the apps that monitor our identities while we trade jokes and pet videos have certainly not created a surge in social democracy. The acute limits of a theoretically democratic Internet are already marked by Musk and the leadership he occupies in Silicon Valley. In the year 2000, Musk got in on the ground floor of PayPal (his claim to be a co-founder of the app, like many Musk statements, is decidedly overblown), teaming up with Peter Thiel, the intellectual godfather of the Silicon Valley hard right. Like Musk, Thiel has embraced the professional disruptor’s scorn for traditional accountability and non-genocentric models of political economy. Thiel stated capitalism and democracy are incompatible, arguing that all markets naturally evolve toward monopoly; he has proved as good as his word in supporting the reactionary campaigns of former President Donald Trump and 2022 Senate candidates JD Vance and Blake Masters.

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