Qwhat was he going to do in this mess? When, this winter, Elon Musk took it into his head to buy the social network Twitter, it was to everyone’s astonishment. Why would the richest man in the world spend 44 billion dollars (44.1 billion euros) to take control of a forum where he expressed himself freely with more than 100 million subscribers? To defend freedom of expression, responds this libertarian, who claims to want to create the digital agora of the XXIe century, a free and peaceful discussion forum. Elon Musk is right in his observation, social networks have become more and more polarized, invaded by extremists, bearers of hatred, manipulation and hubbub. But is Elon Musk the solution?
This is not the first time that a billionaire has owned a press empire in the United States. Whether it’s Michael Bloomberg, Rupert Murdoch (wall street journal) or Jeff Bezos (washington post), all imprint their mark on it more or less strongly. As for the main social network, Facebook, it is controlled by Mark Zuckerberg. Nothing new, alas, one would be tempted to say.
What is unprecedented, however, is that Elon Musk loudly expresses his libertarian opinions – he has the right to do so – and becomes more and more directly involved in political and international debate, proposing his peace plans in Ukraine and Taiwan. On agora 2.0, you cannot be both moderator and main speaker. Similarly, Mr. Musk has an empire behind him, made up of Tesla and SpaceX. Admittedly, it claims to work for the good of humanity, but it is in the direct exercise of political power, even of war, as shown by the use of its Starlink satellites in Ukraine, in Iran, or its silence in China, where he must defend the financial interests of his Tesla factory located in Shanghai. The risk of conflict of interest, in this man who locks his companies like a bunker, is major. On the agora 2.0 as elsewhere, you cannot be both a referee and a player.
The sale being made, it is advisable to limit the nuisances. Economically, the company was running to ruin, with a derisory turnover of 5.2 billion dollars, twenty-five times lower than that of the Facebook group. Its reinvention is necessary, while the network was deserted by moderate subscribers. Mr. Musk claims to win them back, in particular by fighting against fake accounts, but he will undoubtedly reopen the floodgates to polarization by unblocking a whole series of suspended accounts.
Most of the debate concerns the moderation and propagation of conspiracy theories. Recall that the most problematic network so far has been Facebook. If Twitter found itself at the center of the debates, it was because it was Donald Trump’s favorite social network. Mr. Musk announced the creation of a moderation council, made up of various personalities. One of the first tests will be the restoration or not of the account of the former president of the United States. His banishment was evident in January 2021, when he attempted a de facto coup. Two years later, Trump no longer has a loudspeaker, but still threatens democracy. As long as he claims that the election was stolen, Mr. Trump should not recover his account. As for Elon Musk, a specialist in trolls and manipulations as he showed in 2018 with Tesla, to the point of being almost forbidden to tweet on the subject by the American Stock Exchange policeman, he would be well advised to give a pledge serenity to live up to the mission he has set himself. His first move should be to silence his account.