Imagine a world in which the free market was left to its own devices. A world free of government intervention, crony capitalism and shady insider dealings.
In this world all manner of realities could exist. People could be free to trade and associate with whomever they like. Gay cake makers could make cakes, Christian cake makers could be vilified for not making cakes. Parents could keep their children away from agenda driven institutions and activists, and people could even say what they think online. I know, crazy right!
In this magical utopia the world’s richest man (who just so happens to build electric cars in his spare time) could, through lawful means, acquire an underperforming social media company for instance. Right?
In ALN’s ongoing series of articles covering Elon Musk’s musings about free speech and social media here and here, you can see Musk is very much a proponent of open discourse, seeing it as an essential ingredient to a healthy democracy. Musk phrased it eloquently at a Ted conference shortly after announcing his offer to buy Twitter on Thursday April 14th.
It’s fair to say the move by Musk to buy Twitter ‘ruffled some feathers’ (yes I went there).
It was for many an affront to their world view, a gross excess by a malevolent technocrat and an existential crisis in the making. The buyout represented “A chilling new threat” according to Business Insider. Musk after all was going to make their safe space unsafe again.
The move also drew praise from conservative and libertarian circles who for some time have felt that the emergent censorship regimes of social media have been predominantly aimed at them.
Many revelled in the moment, taking joy in the game of brinksmanship on display. They were emboldened by the unfathomable depth of Musk’s pockets, and marvelled at the courage and valor of their fierce and earnest defender of speech.
The reception to the news was surely mixed, but over at Twitter HQ, the controversy was just getting started.
The buyout was check mate. The final move in the game of cat and mouse Musk had been playing with Twitter executives since he invested in the company in March according to SEC filings. Since the initial buy in Twitter execs have been on the defence, seeking to limit the influence of Musk by offering him a seat on the board which he declined.
The offer to buy the company outright was a clear signal of intent, Musk wasn’t playing around. The offer was substantially above market value, 38% above according to Yahoo News. On top of that, the platform has been struggling with user growth as reported by the Wall Street Journal. and has big problems with bots and troll farms according to Vox.
One would think that Twitter would jump on such a generous offer for the struggling outfit ….right?
At the time of publishing the Board of Twitter have unanimously voted to thwart the takeover with what’s called “a poison pill” as reported by Associated Press.
The “poison pill” is a measure designed to ward off unwelcome buyouts. The measure floods the market with low cost shares once an investor owns more than a certain percentage of shares. Basically “a takeover becomes prohibitively expensive” according to AP.
It’s a desperate measure and a measure that a company takes only when they have to. It can also be used as a negotiation tactic.
See we don’t live in the world we spoke of earlier. The world of unfettered, economic collaboration and cooperation. We live in a world of large governments and corporate entities where rent seeking bureaucrats, activists and equity consultants thrive, and free agency and personal autonomy are constantly under threat.
We live in the world where the giants of silicon valley have become deeply intertwined with government. Big tech has been brought to heel by the intelligence apparatus behemoths of the United States under the guise of national security.
Big tech has rolled out the red carpet for the surveillance efforts of government efforts around the world. In return, they have been rewarded with thousands of lucrative contracts across numerous government agencies like the Department of Defence as reported by NBC News. They have also been the recipients of large government tax rebates and subsidy programs as reported by the Guardian.
As the COVID regime demonstrated, big tech became (and remains) a defacto messaging department for the government.
This reciprocal relationship shared by government and big tech illustrates just how powerful the social media companies and big tech giants have become. The data harvesting capacity of players like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter command respect and are paid it accordingly.
All of this alludes to the reasons why Musk’s attempts to buy the 15 year old micro blogging platform is getting massive resistance.
See Twitter is worth way more than its share. It has become a critical tool of influence, with the ability to coerce citizenry, suppress information and even move elections according to some.
It has become a key battle ground in the culture wars and has been run according to corporate interests rather than democratic laws or principals.
The fight to retain Twitter in its current state also seems to indicate that it’s being run counter to the commercial interests of its shareholders and that the Board of Directors have abdicated their fiduciary responsibilities to its investors leaving them open to massive legal liability.
But there is more to this.
Twitter is also an example of a corporation that has begun to lecture and preach behavioural standards to its customers. Instead of merely serving them in the free market it berates and demands users adhere to standards not defined in a court of law or through an accountable, democratic process. The standards by which users must interact (or else) are defined by the rent seeking bureaucrats, activists and equity consultants we mentioned earlier.
In a world where corporations have gained so much power and discourse has become so centralised, customers have lost power.
In the case of Twitter, the power is in the hands of an unaccountable, unelected corporation. The power over narrative and discourse. An immense power over global communication that can be weilded like a political weapon. Terrifying right?
In the follow up to this we will look at a few more examples of big tech organisations, their shifting priorities and the organisations and people that are finding great success standing up to them like Elon Musk and the Daily Wire.
Drew Roller is a Filmmaker, Musician and stay at home dad. He enjoys films about sword swinging immortals, 90s games about British spies and long conversations online that push at the boundaries of polite conversation.