A remarkable and truth-telling post appeared over the weekend from the co-founder and former CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey. Despite how the platform went to heck under his leadership — presuming he really ever had control — he has done good for the world. For years, he has seemed to object to how his own company was operating. He would defy even his own censors by posting radically pro-freedom links, knowing that his own employees could not really block his own speech.
After long battles, he finally resigned as CEO, not in protest or even in expressed sadness but merely to walk away. Most of us had an intuition as to why. He just couldn’t seem to turn the ship around to make it the inclusive and broad platform it was supposed to be. It had become a canned and highly censored venue for official thought, with legions of heretics purged daily, often at the urging of the Biden administration.
the days of usenet, irc, the web…even email (w PGP)…were amazing. centralizing discovery and identity into corporations really damaged the internet.— jack⚡️ (@jack) April 2, 2022
I realize I’m partially to blame, and regret it.
Such a statement is highly unusual in this world! I share his nostalgia. In fact, I wrote whole books about the glorious consumer-friendly innovations in social media and finance. I’ve not looked back on those books simply because it would be too heartbreaking. The centralization of the platforms led to their demise. And this is because such platforms are too easily captured by government. And they have been.
It’s the strangest thing to see enterprising companies enter and then stay on the long trajectory to their own extinction. Not even the CEO can stop it. Even if he knows how and even if he wants to.
Over the same weekend as Jack’s tweet, Elon Musk revealed what he had been hinting about in the previous week. He threw down $2.8B to become Twitter’s largest single shareholder with a 9.2% stake in the company. He was then quickly invited to join the board of directors.
This is screen-level capitalist drama and tremendously exciting. As I’ve written before, Musk has established himself as an enemy of the state, opposing lockdowns and mandates and generally refusing to go along with the great-reset agenda. And he has the money and credibility to back it up.
Will he somehow manage to save Twitter from itself? I doubt it but so does he. Now the company has to listen to him. He wants access to their algorithms and ban lists. He wants to know how posts get promoted and why posts sink without a trace. He wants to know the how and why of the bans of scientists, philosophers, entrepreneurs, and journalists.
The wrecking of Twitter over several years has made a mighty contribution to throttling free speech and debate in the US. This is because Twitter figured out a way to train major influencers to craft their posted thoughts to conform to official priorities.
The company even wrote in a protocol that forced users to take down their own posts, as if to shame people into granting Twitter’s control of messaging. It has felt to many people that they were being pressured to lie, sort of like what one would find in a dystopian novel.
What Will Musk Do?
Musk has not somehow taken over the company but his influence is suddenly huge, especially since the stock jumped 26% on the news. He will seek transparency. Then he will seek to unban many accounts (my guess).
Then he will seek reforms that allow speech on the platform with basic rules that everyone once had, before the days when social media became nationalized by the CDC and the rest. Then he might seek real structural change, moving to a more decentralized model rooted in user control via blockchain ledgers rather than centralized control.
This is the dream, in any case. The attempt is certainly worth the effort. I do worry that his big news has created expectations that are too high. He cannot stop the purges…yet. He cannot unban accounts…yet. He cannot upend the company. At best, his influence will introduce a pause. Will he now be blamed for all the tribulations its users face? That would be unfair and yet there are signs that this is already happening.
People generally underappreciated the reach and influence of the main players in big tech. It’s well and good that alternatives exist such as Gettr, Gab, Parler, Telegram, and so on, and all of these are great and Brownstone uses them all. Similarly, the egregiously censorious YouTube has viable alternatives in Rumble and Odysee.
But they are nowhere near competing in reach and network power of these legacy platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. We are talking about factors of 100 or even 10,000 times the reach or much more.
Generally, I have been with George Gilder in my prediction about how all of this would turn out in the long run. These large companies that now rule will gradually fade in importance as more powerful, agile, and decentralized solutions replace them. The newer technologies are more rooted in actual human experience and aspiration whereas the old technologies have been captured in the way that Jack Dorsey describes.
Still, between here and there, there could be many steps along the way. What Musk has done here is quite impressive, but also unique. There are not too many people in the world who have both the motivation and the resources to accomplish something like this. If it works, it will be remarkable. If it fails, he can move on to start an alternative.
And by the way, and maybe this is obvious, but it is not easy to build new platforms. Trump’s own Truth Social continues to fail: too many shortcuts, not enough programmers, too much fear, too many trolls, too high an expectation. These platforms specialize in looking effortless but they are anything but.
Much Deeper Problems
While this is all brilliant and delightful to watch, the real problems are much deeper than one algorithm at one company. The capturing of Big Media and Big Tech by Big Government (and we should be clear here: I mean government as controlled not by politicians but rather the administrative state) is much more far reaching. The salient trend of our time is for governments to outsource their hegemonic aspirations to the private sector, simply as a way of avoiding the legal limits on public power.
You can pretty well discern everything you need to know about what this machinery wants for our lives by reading the New York Times. The Times daily reminds its readers that the war on dissidents is still on. There will be no apologies for two years of disaster. There will be no admissions of error and guilt. There will be no investigations of the ruling class much less the people and forces behind lockdowns, mandates, passports, and so on.
In particular, they ran a vicious hit piece on a great scientist Robert Malone, who has been a real champion of freedom and science. He made mighty contributions to mRNA technology and is well positioned to offer wise critiques of how they have been deployed. Instead, the NYT just flat-out framed him as a purveyor of “misinformation.” That’s it: he is an enemy. No other argument needed.
This Will Get More Vicious
So here we are with astonishing suffering right now, all over the world and at home too, with inflation soaring, government debt ballooning, lives shortening, kids in a state of crisis, communities shattered, and a vaccine that not only fell far short of its promise but might in fact be responsible for far more adverse effects than we know. And what does Big Media do? Demonizes the regime opponents. Makes them suffer. Intensifies the censorship. Urges more purges. And Big Tech has been there as the echo chamber.
Sometimes it truly does feel like a high-tech civil war is brewing: regime vs. resistance. Maybe this has been going on for a lot longer than most people realize. With an economic crisis brewing, and public anger rising on all fronts, we are in for a rough few years ahead as the battles rage.
Musk’s taking some control of Twitter is a bright spot. It gives the world a brilliant example of something we’ve not seen for a very long time. It reveals how great wealth can be used to challenge power to stop doing evil. It’s just a beginning. And it simply cannot succeed without the mighty force of public opinion, not only in the US but all over the world, that refuses and rejects the “new normal” for the simple and beautiful reality of freedom itself.