United States: Musk, social media and the national security state

Elon Musk
Republicans and far right figures approve of Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Elon Musk — the world’s richest man and worth about $265 billion — is buying social media company Twitter, for $44 billion.

If Musk was in Russia, Western propaganda would call him an “oligarch”, but since he is in the United States he is referred to as a “very successful businessman”. Capitalists like Musk make up the 1% that owns more combined wealth than the bottom 90%.

The Twitter deal could still fall through. But if it goes ahead, what will Musk’s takeover likely mean?

He says he wants Twitter to be a place of “free speech”.

In the US, far-right Republicans and armed groups such as the Proud Boys have used the “free speech” banner to promote their views and violent actions such as the January 6, 2020 invasion of the Capitol.

Republicans have expressed relief and approval at Musk’s takeover. They assume it will result in Twitter dropping its censorship of Republican claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, and the reinstatement of blocked reactionary Twitter accounts.

Far-right media figure Tucker Carlson expressed glee, as did other reactionaries. Carlson’s Fox News program is widely followed and a fountain of views taken up by the Republican Party’s hard white racist base — about 60 million voters.

Others supporting the takeover include leading figures in QAnon, the right-wing conspiracy network with more than a million solid Trump supporters. QAnon holds that the Democrats are behind a nation-wide Satanic ring of pedophiles.

Musk’s right-wing political views are an indication of what he will likely do if he gets control of Twitter.

Musk emigrated from Apartheid South Africa. Among other things he brought with him was anti-Black racism. He increased his fortune by becoming the largest shareholder in Tesla Motors, the electric car company founded in 2003 and based in Fremont, California. Musk became its Chief Executive Officer in 2008.

The racist treatment of Black workers at Tesla’s factory and parts suppliers has been well documented and a by about 4000 Black workers. Tesla workers have told the media they were sacked for going public with their complaints about conditions at the factory, which included being forced to work while sick.

Musk’s attitude towards workers’ rights is another thing he brought from Apartheid South Africa, where resistance to white rule was organised, in part, by Black trade unions affiliated to the African National Congress, whose most famous leader was Nelson Mandela.

Censorship

Twitter has blocked people on the far right — with their own mass media outlets — for opposing the US support of Ukraine. It has also blocked those on the left — with much smaller outlets — that oppose NATO and Washington’s proxy war.

It is unlikely Musk will reverse Twitter’s announcement last year that it had deleted hundreds of user accounts for “undermining faith in the NATO alliance and its stability”.

It is a mistake for progressives to call on capitalist corporations or governments to censure right-wing speech, as some have done. More than a century of class struggle has demonstrated that corporations and governments use such laws (expressed in vague terms such as “opposition to extremism”) to censure or ban left-wing views and organisations — much more so than against the right.

The US’ role in provoking the Russian invasion of Ukraine and leaving the Ukrainians to fight it, in order to bleed Russia is an example of this. Criticism of, or opposition to, the US’ role in the conflict, hits hardest against socialists and other left writers and organisations.

Alan Macleod reported in MintPress News that Google AdSense sent an email to a myriad of publishers, including MintPress in April, informing them that due to the war in Ukraine, the media company would “pause monetization of content that exploits, dismisses, or condones the war”.

This content “includes, but is not limited to, claims that imply victims are responsible for their own tragedy or similar instances of victim-blaming, such as claims that Ukraine … is deliberately attacking its own citizens”, reported Macleod.

The New York Times recently ran an article demonstrating (with photos and first-hand reporting on the ground) that Ukraine used cluster bombs against its own villages. Referring to that reporting would fall under Google’s new rules.

Also blocked is referring to the fact that since the overthrow of President Victor Yanukovych in 2014, a civil war has raged against Russian-speaking citizens in eastern Ukraine, which continues to this day in the Donbas region. Even left-liberal magazine Nation recognises that there has been a civil war “between west and east” in Ukraine since shortly after the coup in 2014.

Google’s new edict “builds on a similar message Google’s subsidiary YouTube released last month,” wrote Macleod, “which had already permanently banned more than a thousand channels and 15,000 videos on these grounds”.

US hypocrisy

The US correctly denounces Russian President Vladimir Putin for censuring outside news about the war, but has itself banned Russian state media, such as RT America. Its entire catalog has been blocked globally, and nationwide broadcasting shut down.

“Censorship is the last resort of desperate and unpopular regimes. It magically appears to make crisis go away,” wrote left-wing journalist Chris Hedges.

“It comforts the powerful with the narrative they want to hear, one fed back to them by courtiers in the media, government agencies, think tanks and academia.”

Hedges wrote: “YouTube disappeared six years of my RT show, On Contact, although not one episode dealt with Russia. It is not a secret why my show vanished. It gave voice to writers and dissidents, including Noam Chomsky and Cornel West, as well as activists from Extinction Rebellion, Black Lives Matter, third [political] parties and the prison abolitionist movement.”

Smaller independent commentators were also purged, Macleod reported, including a Revolutionary Black Network YouTube stream on energy consulting firm RBN, which was censored after debunking the narrative around the Bucha Massacre in Ukraine. Chilean-American journalist Pepe Gonzalo Lira’s video challenging the Bucha massacre was also deleted by YouTube censors.

“Twitter permanently suspended the account of former United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter over his comments on Bucha, and journalist Pepe Escobar for his support for Russia’s invasion,” reported Macleod.

Ritter was one of the UN inspectors in Iraq before the US invasion in 2003. He rejected the US claim that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The US used this claim before the UN to justify its invasion. At the time, television networks reported these claims, using images of atomic bomb mushroom clouds in the background.

We soon learned this was a lie. An important lesson concerning trusting media or White House claims about the present war in Ukraine.

MintPress News opposes Russia’s invasion but also Washington’s role in provoking it through NATO’s expansion to militarily threaten Russia. “Biden’s hands are as bloody as Putin’s” was one headline.

Facebook blocked, for a time, all discussion of the Ukrainian Azov Battalion, created by far-right racist armed groups prominent in the 2014 coup. One group prominently displayed the Confederate flag and a flag of Ukrainian groups that cooperated with the German Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, at demonstrations at the time.

After the coup, the Azov Battalion spearheaded the Ukrainian nationalist army in its civil war against the east.

In February, Facebook reversed its ban on discussion of the battalion and allowed praising and promotion of the group — as long as it was in the context of killing Russians. Discussion of its fascist character remained banned.

Big tech and the security state

In April, the NYT published a hit piece on anti-war journalist Ben Norton, accusing him of spreading a “conspiracy theory” that the US was involved in the 2014 coup in Ukraine. This was in spite of the NYT having said as much at the time.

The need to preserve the close alliance of Big Tech with the US security state was expressed in April in a letter from national security officials, including former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former Cental Intelligence Agency directors Michael Morell and Leon Panetta, and former director of the National Security Agency (NSA) Admiral Michael Rogers.

They warned that regulating or breaking up the big tech monopolies would “hamper the ability of US technology platforms to … push back on the Kremlin”.

They wrote that the US “will need to rely of the power of its technology sector to ensure” it can continue to shape “the narrative of events” globally, and concluded that Google, Facebook and Twitter are “increasingly integral to US diplomatic and national security efforts”.

Commenting on the letter, journalist Glen Greenwald wrote: “By maintaining all power in the hands of the small coterie of tech monopolies which control the internet and which have long proven their loyalty to the US security state, the ability [of that state] to maintain a closed propaganda system around questions of war and militarism is guaranteed.”

Greenwald helped publish former NSA employee Edward Snowden’s expose of the agency’s vast collection of email, telephone and other data on US citizens and foreign governments.