Bangor Daily News
Maine news, sports, politics, election results, and obituaries
The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.
“I invested in Twitter as I believe in its potential to be the platform for free speech around the globe, and I believe free speech is a societal imperative for a functioning democracy.”
These were the words of Elon Musk, in a letter sent to Bret Taylor, the chair of Twitter’s board of directors, on April 13.
“However,” he continued, “since making my investment I now realize the company will neither thrive nor serve this societal imperative in its current form. Twitter needs to be transformed as a private company.”
Musk, as we all now know, put his money where his mouth is, and submitted an offer to Twitter, seeking to purchase the company outright for $54.20 a share, or roughly $43 billion. This came just weeks after it was disclosed that he had purchased a nearly 10 percent stake in the company, making him the largest shareholder in the social media platform.
I will admit to mixed feelings on this evolving soap opera. On the one hand, I have long since abandoned Twitter as a platform, and believe it to be a cesspool of misery. Honest, thoughtful dialogue with good people interested in complex discussions is virtually impossible on Twitter, no matter your ideology. I used to believe in and evangelize the medium as a breakthrough in human connection. Well over a decade of experience, though, has shown me that the platform is irredeemable.
And in the end, it is important to remember that Twitter isn’t real life.
On the other hand, though, Twitter — much to my chagrin — isn’t going away any time soon. It, or something like it, is going to be with us for the rest of our lives, and anyone who makes a sincere attempt to take the aforementioned cesspool and turn it into something less evil should be encouraged.
Elon Musk is an unusual guy, but also fascinating. Of late, he has been labeled something of a right-winger, which is pretty hilarious to those of us on the actual political right who have been paying attention to him for years. A sincere environmentalist, Musk believes strongly in a carbon tax, and resigned from several presidential advisory councils in protest over the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Accords.
He also thinks that his future Mars colony should be governed by direct democracy, a tremendously awful idea. He also thinks a universal basic income is a decent idea (I think it’s not), and endorsed Democrat Andrew Yang for president.
A right-winger he is not. He sometimes looks like one mostly because of his attitudes about speech, and his objection to politically motivated content moderation on the internet. While that certainly puts him on the other side of the current iteration of American progressivism, at one time free-speech absolutism was a cherished belief among the left. As liberals like Bill Maher have recently observed, it is the left that has moved on issues of speech, and not for the better.
Back to Musk and Twitter: It can not be overstated how important his attempt to take over Twitter is. Not only does he have several qualitatively good ideas about how to improve the platform, but his hostility to overly aggressive content moderation also has the potential to radically transform the platform, and social media for the better.
Interestingly, conservatives have been searching for ways of “getting back at” social media giants for their perceived anti-conservative bias for years now. Their most oft-repeated idea has been to use the power of the government through revisions to Title 470, Section 230 of the U.S. Code to force these companies to treat conservative speech more kindly.
I’ve been saying for years that this idea is not only monstrously hypocritical but also will hand the government new authority that can and will be used against conservatives in the future.
The answer to social media companies behaving badly is, and always has been, to build a better mousetrap. Either start another company that competes with the company you dislike and use their shortsighted corporate policies against them to build market share, or do what Musk is doing and take over the established entity, and change it for the better.
And interestingly enough, with the Republicans likely to take back the U.S. House and Senate this November, Musk buying Twitter might just be the last real hope of social media companies to avoid new, heavy-handed government regulations imposed upon them by the new majority. They would be wise to take Musk’s offer, and let him chart a new path.
Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist… More by Matthew Gagnon, Opinion columnist
Bangor Daily News