Twitter, Elon Musk, and Charisma

April 19, 2022 Updated: April 19, 2022

Commentary

Where’s Max Weber When You Need Him?

The grand analyst of the workings of “charisma” would doubtless have something to say about this week’s most inflated saga: Elon Musk’s star-crossed efforts to take over the anti-social social media company, Twitter.

The story thus far has been eagerly picked over by the commentariat.

The main fuel for the melodrama is the contradiction between Twitter’s legacy identification as a scrappy media company that supported free expression, and its present reality: a thoroughly illiberal repository of trendy left-wing attitudinizing and intolerance.

Remember: Twitter deplatformed, i.e., kicked off, Donald Trump, the President of the United States, in the run-up to the 2020 election.

That action, I have no doubt, contributed materially to the illusion of Trump’s defeat, as did Twitter suppression of any news that might be seen as harming the candidacy of the world’s first basement-dwelling candidate, Joe Biden.

Exhibit A in that story was Twitter’s thoroughgoing suppression of The New York Post when that newspaper did its job and published some real news, i.e., the news about Hunter Biden’s “laptop from hell” with all its damaging information about Hunter and Joe “10-percent-for-the-big-guy,” Biden.

The left’s hysteria about Elon Musk’s proposed takeover of the company has been partly hilarious, partly alarming.

The hilarity and the alarm are deeply intertwined.

Musk, the South-African-born American entrepreneur is said to be the world’s richest man, a title he has been passing back and forth lately with Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos. The brains and visionary energy behind Tesla, SpaceX, and sundry “clean energy” companies, Musk is also a grateful champion of the American free enterprise system and a committed, if sometimes impish, partisan of free speech.

Free speech, he has said in many forums, including Twitter (where he has 81 million followers) is essential to the metabolism of democracy.

Musk has been grumbling about Twitter’s high-handed intolerance and woke stupidity for some time now.

A couple of weeks ago, he stunned the world by taking a 9.2 percent share of the company.

That briefly made him the largest shareholder and entitled him to a seat on Twitter’s board.

The prospect of Musk’s joining the board sent the pampered class into a frothy fit of hysteria.

That put paid to the idea of his simply joining the board.

Instead, he offered to buy the company outright for $43 billion, or $54.20 per share.  (The stock closed last week at about $45.)

Oh how the Twitterverse and adjacent pustules of angst exploded!

They got a little boost from Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal when he rejected the offer.

“I don’t believe that the proposed offer by @elonmusk … comes close to the intrinsic value of @Twitter given its growth prospects,” Alwaleed tweeted.
Musk responded with two questions:

“How much of Twitter does the Kingdom own, directly and indirectly?” (The answer seemed to be “less than 5 percent.”)

“What are the Kingdom’s views on journalistic freedom of speech?”

That would be the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, not exactly a bastion of free speech.

Something else to bear in mind: chief honchos in Saudi Arabia still have Twitter accounts, as does Vladimir Putin, as do the Ayatollahs in Iran.

But not Donald Trump.

In a way, that is sound thinking on the part of Twitter and its coterie.

Trump really does represent a greater threat to their monopoly than those world-class baddies.

For its part, Twitter responded to Musk’s offer with a so-called “poison pill” resolution, unanimously adopted by the board.

“Under the new structure, if any person or group acquires beneficial ownership of at least 15 percent of Twitter’s outstanding common stock without the board’s approval, other shareholders will be allowed to purchase additional shares at a discount.”

In the normal course of things, boards have a fiduciary obligation to maximize shareholder value.

The shareholders, you see, own the company.

Twitter’s board is made of finer stuff.

They see their prime obligation to make the world a better place by heading off meanies like Elon Musk (a stand-in, obviously, for Donald Trump).

They are even willing to tank the value of the company to achieve their end of viewpoint diversity, which in Twitter’s Orwellian world means strict conformity on all contentious issues.

The company, in its slightly Newspeaky way, is quite candid about this.

As the commentator Jonathan Turley notes over at The Hill, Twitter “seemingly has written off free speech.”

Parag Agrawal, the CEO, responded to a question about how Twitter would balance its efforts to combat “misinformation” (anything that reflects well on MAGA or badly on the Woke Narrative)  with wanting to “protect free speech as a core value” and to respect the First Amendment.

His response is sobering.

Twitter, he said, is “not to be bound by the First Amendment” and will regulate content as “reflective of things that we believe lead to a healthier public conversation.”

“A healthier public conversation.”  Got that?

Ergo, he said, the company would “focus less on thinking about free speech.”

And so it has come to pass.

As usual, The Babylon Bee cut to the chase and in a short video captured the rancid, self-infatuated truth of the reaction against Musk’s possible takeover.

Mandy (it would be “Mandy”) is tearful and frightened about the prospect of Elon Musk buying the company.

“If he buys our free speech platform,” she wails to a Twitter sponsored therapist, “people will be able to have free speech on our platform.”

The therapist gently probes that contradiction: shouldn’t a “free speech platform” encourage, you know, “free speech”?

No! “If we don’t have the unilateral power to ban ideas we don’t like,” Mandy explains,  “we’d actually have to discuss and defend our ideas on their own merits.”

Would that be a bad thing?

“Everyone who disagrees with me is a Nazi!” she shouts.

The Babylon Bee, of course, is satire.

Which is why Twitter suspended its account after the Bee poked fun at USA Today for naming Rachel Levine, a man pretending to be a woman who is also Biden’s Assistant Secretary for Health, as “woman of the year.”

You need powerful glasses in the tenebrous atmosphere of woke world.

Mandy is make believe.

But what about other Musk-o-phobic enemies of free speech?

Are they any less absurd?

Ponder the representative garland of hysteria that Tom Slater at Spiked gathered.

Quoth Max Boot, a columnist for The Washington “died-in-darkness” Post, “I am frightened by the impact on society and politics if Elon Musk acquires Twitter.” Boot tweeted.

Robert Reich, professional left-winger and former factotum of the Clinton and Obama administrations, said that the prospect of Musk’s taking over Twitter was tantamount to installing fascism in the United States. Musk’s vision for an “uncontrolled” internet, he said,  was “the dream of every dictator, strongman, demagogue and modern-day robber baron.”

Hello? Is anybody home there? Reich needs to get out and acquaint himself with more dictators, strongmen, and robber barons.  They do NOT favor an “uncontrolled” internet.

Yes, Robert Reich and Max Boot are … special.

But I think my favorite response so far came from the anti-Trump talking head Mika Brzezinski.

Musk could “actually control what people think,” Brzezinski said, horrified, “that’s our job.”

Nice that you think so, Mika.

One Twitterer sympathetic to Musk wrote, “If the game is fair, Elon will buy Twitter. If the game is rigged, there will be some reason why he won’t be able to. We’re about to find out how deep the corruption goes.”

To which Musk replied, “Indeed.”

Accurate as well as pithy.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Roger Kimball is the editor and publisher of The New Criterion and publisher of Encounter Books. His most recent book is “The Critical Temper: Interventions from The New Criterion at 40.”