Elon Musk's attack

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By LUÍS FELIPE MIGUEL*

It is not just lies that threaten democracy. Control over behaviors too. Without autonomous citizens, it is not able to survive

1.

Elon Musk decided to go on the attack. He is threatening to disregard Brazilian court decisions regarding Twitter (which only he calls “X”). He says he will lose money, but that “principles” are more important.

We pretend to believe. Like the other far-right voices of which Elon Musk has become a leader, there is a lot of talk about principles, but if you look a little you can find the real motivation: money.

Journalist Luís Nassif joined the dots. Lemann Foundation agents at MEC put together a notice regarding the computerization of schools with random requirements that only Elon Musk's Starlink could meet.

Jorge Paulo Lemann, the looter of Lojas Americanas and leader, as Luís Nassif said, of a curious group of billionaires who enter “only with recommendations, not with money”, is interested in doing business with Jorge Paulo Lemann, Elon Musk. That's why I like it.

But the scheme was leaked and the MEC rectified the notice, eliminating the prank that benefited Starlink. That's why Jorge Paulo Lemann, Elon Musk is angry and decided to fight back.

The only doubt is whether the attacks were combined with Bolsonarism or whether (which is more likely) the billionaire decided on his own, knowing that the local far right would follow by ear.

2.

Elon Musk's reaction is yet another of the risks generated by the fact that monopolistic, private, foreign and profit-minded organizations have become the great arena in which public debate takes place.

The billionaire born in South Africa stands out for his intemperate manner and spoiled child manners. He attends business meetings while intoxicated, responds to tweets with poop emoji, is adept at bravado, traumatizes his children by naming them bizarrely (“X Æ A-12”, “Exa Dark Sideræl”, “Techno Mechanicus Tau”) . But Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page, to name just two examples, are equally predatory and harmful to democracy.

Sociodigital platforms are experiments in mass behavior modulation. The consequences in terms of the quality of public debate, safety and mental health (especially of children and young people), environmental sustainability or preservation of rights do not matter – what they want is profit and power.

The liberal doctrine of freedom of expression, which still informs many of our expectations today, included two assumptions that are now eroded.

The first is that it would be possible to operate as if, as a rule, speakers were acting in good faith. This is no longer sustainable in an environment of outright lies disseminated at an industrial pace.

The second is that open debate would promote the victory of more solid, better-founded positions, with greater adherence to reality.

Therefore, much of the criticism of the old corporate media system pointed towards expanding the plurality of voices, so that different social interests could compete with greater equality in the public sphere.

The ghettoized communication of platforms, with their independent “bubbles”, completely changes the situation.

It is necessary to have the clearest criteria possible regarding the dividing line between legitimate and illegitimate content. The solution is not to leave everything to the discretion of Alexandre de Moraes – nor, much less, to Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg.

But that's not enough. It is also necessary to regulate the functioning of algorithms and regulate the business model of platforms, in order to reduce their empire over users.

It is not just lies that threaten democracy. Control over behaviors too. Without autonomous citizens, it is not able to survive.

* Luis Felipe Miguel He is a professor at the Institute of Political Science at UnB. Author, among other books, of Democracy in the capitalist periphery: impasses in Brazil (authentic). [https://amzn.to/45NRwS2]

Originally posted on the author's social media.

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