One Person Owning Twitter Worries Experts

On unregulated social media, Elon Musk's power would have few checks
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 17, 2022 2:00 PM CDT
Musk Would Be Unchecked as Twitter's Owner
Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk arrives at an event in Berlin in 2020.   (Hannibal Hanschke/Pool Photo via AP, File)

The power of social media companies already concerns many, especially experts and some people in the industry. The platforms can influence what users believe and push them to do things they otherwise wouldn't, such as taking part in violent protests, said Shoshana Zuboff, a retired Harvard professor who wrote The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. All the while, they make huge profits from the data they're collecting on users. To Zuboff, that's all problematic enough for democracies, the Washington Post reports. But having one of the giants controlled by a single person, which Elon Musk is seeking by trying to buy Twitter, would be worse. "This is a disaster," she said.

If Musk succeeds, he'd have all that data, which could be used to manipulate Twitter users in a way "that cannot be compared to anything that has ever existed, and allows intervention into the integrity of individual behavior and also the integrity of collective behavior," Zuboff said. As an example, she cited Mark Zuckerberg allowing the anti-vax movement to have a platform on Facebook. The social media titans can decide "hour by hour whether people are going to be more angry or less angry, whether publications are going to live or die," Zuboff said. Facebook has a board of directors watching Zuckerberg and, because it has shareholders, the Securities and Exchange Commission keeping an eye on the place. If Musk takes Twitter private, he wouldn't face even those checks.

The issue shows that the tech industry needs a new regulator, said a former chair of the Federal Communications Commission. "What we need is a First Amendment-respecting process in which the government doesn't dictate content but does cause there to be an acceptable behavioral code," Tom Wheeler, a Democrat, told the Post. Musk has been critical of the removal of offensive and untrue tweets, basically saying any posts that are legal should stand. "Without rules of the road, we're going to be put in harm’s way," said Rashad Robinson, head of the racial justice group Color of Change. "Our protections cannot be up to the whims of billionaires." (More Elon Musk stories.)

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