New York Times technology reporter Kevin Roose, who consistently uses his column to nudge social media enterprises toward anti-conservative censorship, had a leftist take on entrepreneur and free-speech advocate Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, in Sunday’s edition: “Pivot for Twitter: The ‘People’s Tool’ Has Now Become a Mogul’s Toy.” The online headline was even more hostile, implicitly comparing Musk to authoritarians: “Twitter, Once a Threat to Titans, Now Belongs to One.”
A decade ago, when Twitter -- then a scrappy, young microblogging service -- burst into the mainstream, it felt like a tool for challenging authority.
Pro-democracy activists in Libya and Egypt used Twitter to help topple dictatorships. Americans used it to occupy Wall Street. And in 2013, after George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing an unarmed Black teenager named Trayvon Martin, #BlackLivesMatter took root on Twitter.
These campaigns fueled one of the defining ideas of the 2010s: that social media was an underdog’s dream, a tool for bottom-up organizing that would empower dissidents and marginalized groups, topple corrupt institutions and give ordinary people the ability to communicate on equal footing with tycoons and tyrants….
That narrative -- shaky as it might have been all along -- officially ended this week, when Twitter became the property of the richest man in the world.
It was also a symbolic bookend to a decade in which social media evolved to be, in many ways, more useful to the powerful than the powerless.
Can one truly call the media-beloved Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter powerless? BLM’s online mob of supporters had a scholar fired from a liberal nonprofit for posting an academic study suggesting street riots don’t attract voters. Sounds like power.
Twitter has always been hypersensitive to the sensibilities of easily offended liberals, banning users for relaying innocuous jokes about journalists “learning to code” and for accurately identifying biological men as men. Twitter interfered in the democratic process late in the 2020 presidential campaign by censoring news of the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop. But those were power flexes by the leftists who previously ran the platform -- not the sort of “power” Roose has ever worried about.
Roose sees intimidation as the sole province of the right against marginalized communities, ignoring myriad instances of the shutting down of conservative ideas and accounts that dare advance heterodox ideas about transgender issues, gender identity, the origin of COVID, and the efficacy of vaccines.
But as Twitter and other social networks grew, powerful people found that these apps could help them extend their power in new ways. Authoritarians discovered they could use them to crack down on dissent. Extremists learned they could stir up hateful mobs to drive women and people of color offline….
Roose is operating under the delusion that Donald Trump’s Twitter account made him president, not millions of voters who have never sent a tweet. (How he “undermine[d] public health” via Twitter is another mystery.)
And when Donald J. Trump rode a wave of retweets to the White House in 2016, and used his Twitter account as president to spread conspiracy theories, wage culture wars, undermine public health and threaten nuclear war, the idea that the app was a gift to the downtrodden became even harder to argue.
Clearly, Roose would prefer social media dominated by censorious billionaire leftists like former Vox-journalist Carlos Maza, who Roose gushed over in 2020 for getting conservative comedian Steven Crowder “demonetized.” (So much for the left having no sway on Twitter.)