Billionaires can own yachts, mansions, $1 million watches and Ferraris, but the ultimate accessory is influence. Elon Musk‘s bid Twitter has little to do with money. After all, he could afford to lose his Twitter investment and still have more billions than a lifetime to spend.
or the mega rich, there’s no point in having vast sums of money if you don’t have power. Power is meaningless if you cannot exercise it.
Since the invention of the newspaper, mass media has tended to be dominated by wealthy families. The lure of owning media has been around for a long time. In the early 20th century, during a golden age of newspapers, whether in the US or the UK, a handful of powerful media moguls owned the major publishers.
There are some key differences from this age of media ownership and what we’ve seen in recent years, and indeed Musk’s bid to buy one of the world’s largest communications platforms.
Early media moguls tended to make their money from the media. William Randolph Hearst, the eccentric pressman who inspired the famous Orson Welles film Citizen KaneHe wanted to make a fortune in the media business.
The families that controlled the major newspapers in America, like the Grahams at the Washington Post or the Sulzbergers at the New York Timeswere there for the long haul.
In Britain behind Lord Beaverbrook To express or Lord Rothermere at the Daily Mail Everyone was trying to enjoy the money they made but also the influence it brought them.
The links between the means of communication and those in power have existed for centuries. Even in ancient Rome, an editor (where the word comes from) was the impresario who organized, signed and selected the games to be held in the Coliseum to the delight of the emperor and the barking crowd (think the guy with the weird orange wig in the movie gladiator).
In Britain throughout the 20th century, owning a national newspaper was a quick route to knighthood or, more recently, nobility. After mail order and retail magnates David and Frederick Barclay took over the Telegraph media group in Britain, they were knighted.
The owner of the Independently in Britain, a Russian businessman, is now Lord Evgeny Lebedev. The previous owner of this publication was Independent Newspapers (now Mediahuis) here in Ireland, whose chairman was knighted to become Sir Anthony O’Reilly.
In Ireland, the media tended to be controlled by families like the O’Reillys, the De Valeras at the Press Group, the Crosbies at the Examiner. But just buying media assets is no guarantee of financial success.
Billionaire Denis O’Brien started in the media industry with music radio station 98FM but went on to become the largest private media owner in Ireland, costing him €500m. More recently, we’ve seen Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who was the richest man in the world before Elon Musk overtook him, buy this Washington Post for $250 million. Do you have to ask why?
Former media barons at least knew the industry inside and out. Rupert Murdoch, dubbed by some as the most influential media baron in history, at least eats and drinks the business. For others, it’s not so much about making money as it is about using money to boost their ego and enjoy either the direct impact or the perceived impact it brings.
Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea Football Club not as a smart investment, but because he wanted something more interesting than flipping oil companies to occupy his time.
The allure of media ownership for the super-rich is similar, except you become socially and politically powerful, and not just in the world of football.
However, Elon Musk’s offering for Twitter is a little different. Twitter is not a classic media platform.
If anything, it has a longer range. Musk has 22 million Twitter followers. As the owner of the platform, he will influence the delivery and parameters of communication for a few hundred million.
He won’t control the content, but he will be able to set the stage for what can and cannot be said.
Until regulators become more proactive, Musk could have a lot of control over the platform’s direction. He doesn’t buy it to make money. If anything, he buys himself considerable global influence. Should Donald Trump succeed in the next US presidential election, Musk could decide whether the president of the country with the world’s largest economy has access to the hundreds of millions of Twitter users.
He could be instrumental in deciding whether a future American President will be granted access to this platform.
Musk needs to be very careful with China. Tesla has invested huge sums there. When Musk opened a Tesla factory in Shanghai in 2019, the Chinese government greeted him with support of cheap land, credit, tax breaks, and subsidies.
“I really believe that China is the future,” he said. A quarter of Tesla’s 2021 revenue will come from China. But the Chinese government hates Twitter.
Could this be an Achilles’ heel for Musk, or is it the opposite? The Chinese government could see itself as a sympathetic investor taking control of one of the world’s most influential platforms. A bit like Jeff Bezos when buying Washington PostElon Musk is proposing to use just a fraction of his Tesla fortune to buy a company he doesn’t need and can afford to lose.
Musk isn’t the first billionaire trying to buy the influence a communications company brings in the name of “freedom of speech,” and he won’t be the last.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/yachts-villas-fast-cars-but-elon-musk-proves-the-ultimate-accessory-is-influence-41601851.html Yachts, mansions, fast cars… but Elon Musk proves that the ultimate accessory is influence