Elon Musk’s latest exploit is a clear display of the fact that there is truly no limit to his self-regard: wearing a Texas Ranger cowboy hat, he broadcast from the Mexican border, saying he had gone there to show his millions of followers “what’s really happening” on the southern border of the U.S.
His live broadcast via the Spaces platform of the former Twitter (now “X”) didn’t show anything new in the context of the distressing images we already know from the borders between the world’s north and south. More than anything, what was on display was another film, playing in Musk’s own head, in which he stars as an investigative journalist and tireless champion of hidden truths. Here, the implicit enemy he was fighting was the notion of “opening the borders to anyone,” which seems scandalous to the South African tycoon, himself an immigrant to the U.S. who got his green card for outstanding merit in the field of entrepreneurship.
For Musk, the persona of the lone ranger for truth is another one he’d like to add to that of technological demiurge and global oligarch, regular guest of high officials and reliable friend to certain government leaders. He is a magnate with political and even geopolitical interests that go beyond national sovereignty: see the role of his Starlink satellite internet system in the Ukrainian war, and his direct dealings with the U.S., Ukraine and Russia.
As the New Yorker profile on him by Ronan Farrow revealed, Musk, as an entrepreneur, has an inordinate influence on geopolitical scenarios as well as on the domestic politics of many countries. His foray, guns blazing, into the migration issue is in tone with the obsessions of the alt-right (immigration and “censorship”), with which Musk – and his platform – are now definitively aligned. On Friday, the head of X hit back against criticism with a call for users to redouble their citizen journalism efforts to fight the monopoly of the mainstream media. Just the day before, he had shut down the “X” department in charge of fighting propaganda and fake news on the platform, which had a proven role in the assault on Capitol Hill.
Meanwhile, one could get a taste of what “unbiased” journalism really looks like according to Musk from the X-hosted Tucker Carlson interview with Donald Trump. Carlson was the former conservative star who in the end was too controversial for Fox; afterwards, Musk gave him a platform. That’s no surprise: since the South African billionaire’s purchase of Twitter, the social platform has become a cesspool of racist, xenophobic, and extremist tropes – many retweeted by Musk himself and amplified to his 150 million followers. He often does this by adding laconic comments such as “Interesting” or “Troubling,” affixed to tweets from the numerous extremists that Musk let back onto the platform, among them Trump, Kanye West, militant misogynist Andrew Tate or neo-Nazi Nick Fuentes. And Musk himself writes incendiary tweets whose targets include transgender people and the classic “Jewish conspiracy” (last month he accused George Soros of “want[ing] nothing less than the destruction of Western civilization”).
The rampant antisemitism on the site has led to criticism from numerous civil rights observers, such as the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which has documented X’s refusal to remove violent content even when reported. In response, Musk sued the NGO for defamation. Last week, the headstrong multibillionaire hosted a live show with Benjamin Netanhyahu – a coordinated image operation to whitewash the Israeli premier’s policies and implicitly absolve Musk of accusations of anti-Semitism. This “mutually beneficial” transaction model makes Musk the perfect ally for autocrats and reactionaries around the world – and vice versa.
In his extremist drift, Musk has managed to alienate both the platform’s users and advertisers and has systematically demolished a platform which had been, for better or worse, a cross-cutting channel of political, cultural, and journalistic discourse in the social media landscape.
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