John Krull: Don’t make a mountain out of a Musk hill

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Krull

So, multi-multi-multi-billionaire Elon Musk is buying Twitter and set the social media, business and political worlds all aflutter.

When the news broke that the Tesla CEO with the estimated net worth of more than $260 billion had agreed to buy Twitter for $44 billion, reactions were immediate and not in short supply.

Twitter users by the hundreds of thousands, most of them left-leaning, closed their accounts on the social-media platform in protest. Business analysts opined that there was no way Musk could make money on the deal, given the purchase price. And political commentators fretted that seeing Twitter pass into Musk’s hands would degrade public discourse and accelerate the assaults on the processes of self-government.

This is one of those moments when it would be good for everyone to take a deep breath.

Then let’s explore some obvious truths.

The first is that Musk had every right to buy Twitter if he wanted to and Twitter’s board members had every right to sell to him if they wished.

I do not know how the notion took root that social-media platforms in effect were public property. They aren’t. They are the property of those who own them, just as newspapers, TV networks, radio stations and book publishing houses are.

That means the people who own them get to choose what appears in print, on the screen, over the air or on the web.

When any media outlet or platform chooses not to publish, air or disseminate something — say, the fact-free and often incendiary rantings of a certain former commander-in-chief — that’s not censorship. It’s called editing.

That so few Americans seem to understand that indicates we as a nation must do a much better job of providing civic education.

Musk has said he wanted to buy Twitter to make it a haven for free speech.

It will be interesting to see what he means by that.

His critics, I know, are convinced he intends to create a safe zone for false information and incendiary rantings. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

One challenge social media have confronted is that of verification. Until recently, most of them just punted on the question and allowed lies and hallucinatory ravings to appear on their platforms unchecked.

There was a cost to that approach, though. Accountholders and advertisers began to shy away from forums in which falsehood and slander were so often mistaken for candor and courage.

Musk will face the same challenge.

If he wants to attract users and thus make money, he will have to figure out some way to self-police the platform. Ideologues and cranks will spout and accept nonsense in the service of a self-proclaimed cause, but most business guys prefer profits to causes.

The guess here is that whatever costs Musk money will be thrown overboard — and in a hurry.

But what if he doesn’t care about making money with Twitter?

Well, I find it hard to believe his ownership of the platform could degrade our public discourse much more than it already has been.

The fact is many — perhaps most — of life’s profound truths cannot be explored or communicated in fewer than 280 characters.

Twitter is a medium perfectly designed to communicate snap judgments and guttural reactions, not mature reflections or considered responses. That is why it generates so much heat and so little light.

If Musk opts to make Twitter a haven for cranks and frothing fanatics, then he will build a media silo that resembles an asylum.

And he will lose money.

But, even if he loses every cent he invested in buying Twitter, he still will have more than $200 billion.

Maybe Musk, his dependents and his accountants will lose sleep over his deprived circumstances.

But I won’t. I’d suggest you shouldn’t, either.

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