by Rober Kimball
“The Bird is Freed!”
That’s what Elon Musk tweeted upon the consummation of his bid to buy Twitter. ’Twas a consummation devoutly to be wished. Why? For one thing, as Musk later tweeted, henceforth comedy once again will now be “legal on Twitter.”
Musk’s acquisition of Twitter for more money than you or I can really contemplate ($44 billion) lit the punditocracy ablaze. On the Left there was, as St. Matthew (13:42) put it in another context, abundant “fletus et stridor dentium,” “wailing and gnashing of teeth.” On the Right, there were cheers and not a little “Schadenfreude,” which is German for “serves you right, knucklehead.” The Right also went in for some creative trolling.
The dominant narrative, on the Left anyway, is that Musk’s acquisition of Twitter represents a conservative takeover of the social media giant. Twitter had been a brash and scrappy upstart, you see, and now it has been “colonized” by the rich and powerful. . . .
That’s the idea, anyway. You can practically hear the Nabobs of the Narrative holding their breath while they wait to see if the public buys it.
Their public will, of course. But how about the rest of us?
The New York Times gave fastidious expression to this canard in a story headlined “Twitter, Once a Threat to Titans, Now Belongs to One.” A “threat to titans,” eh? What do you suppose that means? The Times explains in its subhead. “A decade ago, the social media platform was a tool for rebels and those challenging authority. But over time, the powerful learned how to use it for their own goals.”
In order to appreciate how funny this is, you can start with CNN’s story about the pile of money paid to the executives that Musk, in his first order of business, fired on Thursday. It is a large pile. According to CNN, Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s former CEO, Ned Segal (former CFO), and Vijaya Gadde (former Chief Legal Officer) will walk away with nearly $200 million. (I pause so that you, along with many others, can savor the word “former.”)
Gadde, by the way, was not only paid many millions of dollars a year but was also instrumental in engineering the expulsion of Donald Trump, then the president of the United States, from the platform.
The idea that Twitter was a challenge to the establishment before the advent of Musk is almost as wrong as the idea that Musk is conservative and that he aims to transform Twitter into a a bastion of Trumpesque MAGA (or, to quote Joe Biden’s focus group, “ultra-MAGA”) sentiment.
As Musk has repeatedly stressed, his aim is to open Twitter to a wide range of political viewpoints, Left as well Right, “progressive” as well as conservative. By removing the top executives, Musk merely removed a hose spewing intolerance camouflaged as inarguable virtue. Marinated in that sentiment, many of Twitter’s 7,500 employees doubtless have absorbed the mantra that “free speech” means “speech I agree with.” In the run up to Musk’s takeover of Twitter, rumors were rife that he planned to fire “75 percent” of the workforce. Musk later denied that, but everyone expects him to put the company on a serious diet.
Everyone also expects him to make big changes in the way the company oversees “content” on Twitter. Musk is the very incarnation of a man in a hurry. His firing of Agrawal, Sega, and Gadde happened before his name could be painted on the door to his office. So did his immediate deployment of software engineers from Tesla to review Twitter source code.
But on issues of general policy he seems to be moving more deliberately. Twitter distinguished itself by its intolerance of views that challenged the dominant progressive narrative on everything from the presidency of Donald Trump, Hunter Biden’s laptop (really, a subset of Twitter’s Trump allergy), “climate change,” BLM, and various approved forms of “progressive” sexual pathology. Trespassing upon any of those orthodoxies could get you suspended, “shadow banned,” or banned outright.
That will change, but not all at once. Soon after taking over, Musk announced (on Twitter, bien sur) that the company would be “forming a content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints. No major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before that council convenes.”
There are, I think, two major things to bear in mind about Musk’s takeover of Twitter. One is that, although he is not himself a conservative, the fact that he supports a robust view of free speech in which a wide variety of opinions are not only tolerated but encouraged means that he will be regarded as an existential threat by the progressive establishment.
That establishment is right to regard him as a threat. For its guardians require strict conformity in dispensing their twisted gospel of “diversity” if they are to maintain their power and perquisites. Open the door just a little, let just a little sunlight in, and pow! The magic spell that made it seem OK to say that men are women, that “climate change” is a threat to humanity, that COVID is a peril on the same plane as the Black Death, or that BLM and Antifa were justified in burning down our cities—suddenly that spell is broken, and so is the hold over the narrative that these new guardians of conformity had enforced.
The second thing to bear in mind is that the establishment will not sit idly by as Elon Musk challenges their narrative. Everything about Musk is an insult to the coddled, low-testosterone consensus that has been ruining America this last decade through the promulgation of its dependency agenda. It is no accident, as the Marxists say, that even as Musk pushes ahead with his reformation of Twitter, the coercive busybodies of the state have begun making minatory noises about “investigating” Musk. Thus we read that Tesla is under federal investigation over autopilot claims.
Expect more of that. Beatings will continue until morale improves. As Glenn Reynolds put it at Instapundit, “The Bureaucracy Mobilizes Against A Threat.” Were the midterms not just around the corner, I might be worried about this coalescing threat against Elon Musk. But come November 9, the clock will be ticking against that sclerotic, freedom-hating consensus. The bird is freed, and we will be too. Fiat Musk!
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Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the president and publisher of Encounter Books.
Photo “Elon Musk Dreaming of a Brighter Future” by Steve Jurvetson. CC BY 2.0.