Online oligarchs create platform to end freedom of expression
“Most epic troll ever.” This is how a Twitter contributor described Elon Musk’s offer to buy the platform and how it was largely covered — as the latest entrepreneurial romp in the billionaire’s ever-growing cult of personality.
A self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” who sees Twitter as the “de facto public square of the city,” Musk did what any zillionaire with a savior complex would do: he bought the city square for $44 billion. .
It may be a troll, but the focus on Musk’s unconventional style detracts from a more pressing problem: the growing consolidation of online media that is allowing a few of the wealthiest individuals and companies to control digital discourse.
With online searches dominated by Google and Facebook parent Meta buying the world’s largest social media platforms to amasse 3.6 billion monthly active users – almost half the planet – the online Discourse centralized under a handful of corporate screens.
Worse, it’s increasingly not just a few companies that are shaping this conversation, but a few individuals. Based on last year’s Forbes 400, eight of the 10 richest people in the US have a significant share of online media or public access to it.
These so-called “public” platforms have become the platforms of the plutocrats, and their dominance makes them difficult to avoid — I went to Twitter myself to comment on the potentially dangerous implications of selling Twitter.
Like many others, I’m trying to see through the dizziness of the situation and figure out what’s next. Because one thing is clear: this consolidation does not create the conditions under which freedom of expression thrives. Online oligarchs seem to believe that if they could simply break the chains of regulation, a marketplace of ideas would thrive. But we’ve seen that untrammeled online platforms don’t lead to the best ideas getting to the top. If anything, it’s a race to the bottom. Fredrick Brennan, creator of 8chan — a site envisioned as a “free speech utopia” — saw how a lack of moderation led to violence, misinformation and hatred dominating the platform.
It seems that every platform increasingly needs guard rails. And we can’t rely on benevolent billionaires to frame them objectively.
Mark Zuckerberg has touted the value of freedom of speech and expression, but when TikTok’s meteoric success threatened Facebook’s relevance, the company launched a nationwide campaign to discredit the app.
When a teenager created a popular Twitter account tracking the movements of Musk’s private jet using publicly available information, the free speech absolutist attempted to quash the operation by offering the student thousands of dollars to delete the account. The student refused – and look who turned around just months later and bought the entire platform.
We can take steps to reclaim online communications as a public good. This begins with counteracting consolidation through antitrust reform. Anti-monopoly advocate Stacy Mitchell says splitting companies like Google and Amazon into sub-companies could eliminate the conflicts of interest that allow them to unfairly disadvantage competitors — and allow a wider variety of actors to take control of the online world to design.
At a time when democracy is under attack around the world, there seems to be an urgent need to create environments that encourage a vibrant, open and productive exchange of ideas. (©Washington Post)
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/online-oligarchs-creating-platform-to-end-free-speech-41619505.html Online oligarchs create platform to end freedom of expression