When Elon Musk bought Twitter, many figures in alternative media really thought they’d be getting re-platformed. Personally, I found it hilarious that Musk was willing to spend $44 billion because he missed Babylon Bee. But Twitter’s new CEO, Linda Yaccarino, has some of us questioning Musk’s long game.
Is he really a champion of free speech? Or was this a plan, all along, to turn Twitter into the American equivalent of WeChat? How much can we really trust him to stand up for the First Amendment?
Let’s look a little more closely at Linda Yaccarino first.
Before moving to Twitter, she was NBCUniversal’s Chairman of Global Advertising and Partnerships. During her decade-plus at NBC, she helped the network transition from a traditional broadcasting network to a modern media company, establishing partnerships with companies like Apple, Snapchat, Buzzfeed, and YouTube to increase NBC’s online presence dramatically.
This is a woman who knows in what direction the winds are blowing and gets things done.
From a purely business perspective, her choice as Twitter’s CEO makes sense. Twitter lost many of its big advertisers after Musk’s takeover. Their revenue in December 2022 was down more than 70% from the year before. Musk needs to start rebuilding his relationships with advertisers, and Yaccarino looks like the perfect person to do it.
Yaccarino has conservative credentials. Liberals hate her. After all, she was a Trump appointee to the Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition. She follows Ron DeSantis and Libs of TikTok on Twitter.
She is also the World Economic Forum’s Chairman of the Taskforce on the Future of Work. The WEF has always favored heavy censorship. In the OP’s January article about the WEF’s annual meeting, we pointed out member Vera Jourova’s hint about illegal hate speech, “which you will soon have in the U.S.” Looking at comments made by Yaccarino, she seems to be on the same page.
In an interview with Musk on April 18, Yaccarino applauded Twitter’s decision to promote “freedom of speech, not freedom of reach.” This means that they will de-amplify voices that violate policies concerning hateful content and violent speech. At this point, I’m pretty sure we all know how arbitrary these usage policies are. They’re just a way to deplatform anyone politically inconvenient.
In the same interview, Yaccarino also made it clear that she wants marketers to have protection for their ad campaigns. She gives platforms to people willing to pay the most. And this mindset is why she’s so successful, but it’s also why mainstream media, in general, seems so monotonous. They’re all selling out to the highest advertisers because that’s how they make the most money. Did Elon Musk pick someone who’s going to stick to ideals for the sake of the First Amendment? No. No, that’s not Linda Yaccarino.
So, what was Musk thinking?
Is he just trying to get back some of that $44 billion?
Maybe. Or maybe he’s got some other motives.
Elon Musk has received many billions of dollars from the American government over the years, whether for projects like Tesla and Solar City or through various defense projects. Yes, I enjoy his smartass Twitter comments as much as anyone else, but you can’t convince me someone that dependent on government funding is any kind of idealist.
The rise of the “everything app?”
Upon hiring Yaccarino, Musk stated that he was excited to have someone help turn Twitter into the “everything app.”
What does he mean by that? Well, in a May 2022 interview on the All-In podcast, Musk elaborated a little bit. He thinks the U.S. needs a super-app, our own version of WeChat, the app used by over a billion Chinese. It is a one-stop shop, where you can message your friends, book flights, and pay almost anywhere within China. Most people on this website are aware of its use in tracking social credit, too.
An American super-app would be an amazing business opportunity, and Musk isn’t the only person who wants to cash in. Super-apps are becoming increasingly popular in other parts of the world. The trend took off in countries with a high percentage of unbanked people in the population, but has been catching on elsewhere, too.
People love the convenience, but these services don’t come without risks to freedom and privacy. We published an article recently about Ukraine’s Diia app, its “government in a smartphone.” Groups like the World Economic Forum have been aware of this move toward super-apps, and they see it as an opportunity for control, as discussed in the Diia article.
And the WEF brings us right back to Linda Yaccarino.
I have never particularly trusted Elon Musk. Maybe I’m too naturally cynical about rich people? Elon Musk is brilliant and eccentric. That makes him nothing more than brilliant and eccentric—he’s not out to save anyone, though he seems to enjoy seeing himself that way. He is absolutely passionate about free speech for himself, as he made clear in a recent interview, but his passion for free speech does not extend very far. Just look at how he treats truly independent journalists.
I was excited about the Twitter Files. We were finally getting some real information about what actually happens online. We wrote about it at the OP. I started following independent journalist Matt Taibbi more closely around this time because he was one of the first people contacted by Musk to wade through Twitter’s files. After his congressional crucifixion, my respect for Taibbi grew as it became obvious he was willing to take a lot of punches for the First Amendment.
So, how long did this working relationship between Musk and Taibbi last? You can read about the gory details here, though it is paywalled. Long story short, Musk got mad at Taibbi over posting to Substack (a tiny company relative to Twitter), and kicked him off Twitter. Someone that wants to think of himself as a free speech champion kicking off one of the few independent journalists out there? No, I don’t think so.
It’s possible, too, that other forces are at play. On May 9, Tucker Carlson announced that he would be launching his show on Twitter, after his firing by Fox. Is it a coincidence that Musk announced Yaccarino’s hiring four days later? Are other powerful figures pushing Musk to hire someone that could limit Tucker’s reach before the 2024 election?
This may be a stretch, but I don’t think it’s impossible. Enough crazy things have happened in the last few years that I would have previously found unimaginable; this could be another one of those situations.
There are a lot of new alliances out there.
We’ve all seen new alliances emerge, post-Covid. Tucker Carlson’s interview with Russell Brand was very enlightening. Buck Johnson and Naomi Wolf’s interview gave us another example of a liberal and a conservative having a candid discussion and finding many points of agreement. There are many more. The societal disruption surrounding Covid, the authoritarian measures, the constant rewriting of history have had freedom lovers of all political stripes coming together. This has been widely celebrated, as it should be.
I have seen this in my personal life. I had a conversation with a dear friend recently who had a very privileged upbringing in the Northeast; I had a low-income upbringing in the Midwest. Ten years ago, both of us were still products of our childhood. She was very liberal, I was very conservative.
Now we’ve met on the outside. Both of us have to come to the conclusion that the political class is rotten, and that mainstream media is designed to keep Boomers in their ideological comfort zones.
I have thoroughly enjoyed finding common ground with new people. However, lovers of conformity and power are doing the exact same thing. If independent-minded folks are coming together across the political spectrum to talk about new alliances and new ways of living, so are the authoritarians.
Elon Musk has always been somewhat left. He admits voting for Biden (though he also admits regretting it). Linda Yaccarino is a Trump appointee. But these things don’t matter nearly as much as the fact that they wield a huge amount of power online.
And our lives are being pushed more online by the minute. I wish we could all simply go off-grid, but that’s not realistic for 99.9% of us.
It’s natural to see an oddball like Elon Musk as a savior figure. That temptation to want someone big and powerful to come and rescue us peasants is strong. But we can’t rely on anyone swooping in to save us. The best option for most of us continues to be refining our own skill sets and nurturing our personal relationships so that we have more flexibility when things do take a sharper turn for the worse.
What are your thoughts?
What do you think about Linda Yaccarino? What about Elon Musk and Twitter? How committed to free speech is Musk, really? What effects do you think this alliance will have on social media being more open to conservative or libertarian ways of thinking? Or was the whole thing a boondoggle from the get-go?
Let’s talk about it in the comments.
About Marie Hawthorne
A lover of novels and cultivator of superb apple pie recipes, Marie spends her free time writing about the world around her.