Elon Musk on October 27, 2022. (GDA via AP Images)

Since taking over ownership of Twitter, Elon Musk has been a font of dangerous and bizarre statements. He has made the social platform once again welcoming to racists, insurrectionists, and harassers. He himself seems to be moving from iconoclast to friend of the far right, conversing with MAGA trolls and promoting baseless conspiracy theories that originate in conservative fever swamps. He has baselessly implied that Twitter’s former head of safety is a pedophile, triggering an avalanche of death threats. The South African-born Musk has posted Pepe the Frog memes used by the far right and lamely joked that his pronouns are “Prosecute/Fauci” while insisting that the National Institutes of Health official and adviser to seven presidents is personally responsible for millions of COVID-19 deaths. Musk has called those who take the pandemic seriously “Branch Covidians,” declared that the “woke mind virus is a mortal threat to civilization,” and agreed with another far-right user that “we are either in a mass awakening event or total collapse of society.”

Although Musk’s descent into far-right paranoia has received the most attention, his less-noticed dangerous views on the future of news and communications are equally alarming. On December 3, Twitter’s new owner wrote, “The more Twitter improves its signal-to-noise ratio, the less relevant conventional news becomes.” He later reinforced this perplexing claim by stating, “The intelligence of this hive-mind will improve significantly as signal/noise, effective cross-linking of tweets & speed of tweets all improve.”

Musk sees all human communication as a networked hive mind and thinks that deplatforming anti-vaxxers and antidemocracy coup plotters from the public square is like cutting off crucial synapses of society’s collective brain. This misapplication of neural network principles to human societies is compounded by his ignorance of history. Amplifying authoritarians and antiscience know-nothings does not add to the networked intelligence of human civilization. It puts humankind and the planet in harm’s way, threatens the marginalized, and emboldens ethnonationalist dictators. Meanwhile, Musk has suspended the accounts of several journalists who have been covering his erratic takeover of Twitter. So much for keeping the hive mind connected.

 Social media’s promotion of far-right rhetoric and pseudo-intellectual drivel has had catastrophic effects. It smoothed the path to power for far-right authoritarians from the United States to Myanmar, Brazil, and Sri Lanka. Until now, Twitter has been one of the more responsible platforms, better resisting the urge to maximize its engagement algorithms and doing more to curb dangerous content than other social media sites. Musk is reversing course and seems determined to amplify the farthest right to make up for lost time while deplatforming actual journalists and trusted public figures, especially the so-called verified Blue Checks he feels have unearned influence.

The effects are already being felt. Just one day after Matt Taibbi (bending to undisclosed requirements from Musk) released a fizzled expose about Twitter’s moderation decisions, Donald Trump used it as a pretext to demand his reinstatement to the presidency and the termination of the Constitution. Musk hosted a Twitter Spaces conversation with some of the disgraced ex-president’s most vocally extremist supporters.

While Musk portrays Twitter as the new journalism colossus, with far-right personalities as his loyal viziers, it is no accident that in his wildly overcompensated leadership role at Tesla, he demanded the literal title of “TechnoKing.” Such ego makes Trump look modest. Using the videogame parlance common in Silicon Valley, Musk and his friends are the protagonist Player Characters, and the rest of us are passive Non-Player Characters in the role-playing game of life.

Part of what makes Musk’s arrogant perspective so amusing is that he and his tech venture capital friends are deeply out of touch with society. Musk endorsed Republicans in the midterms, only to see Democrats outperform expectations. The rocket-and-car titan wants to be cool, even as voters under 45 and culture creators lean to the left of the Democratic Party.Still, it falls upon the rest of us to prove Musk wrong. Washington should use its legal and regulatory power to protect us from the whims of right-wing billionaires and our collective power to prod advertisers to abandon Musk as he finances this $44 billion mess. And we should seek out alternative spaces, because Elon Musk and his authoritarian friends should not get to decide what constitutes news or who has agency and worth in society. We, the people, should.

David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.