As Elon Musk shores up $44 billion to buy Twitter, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) is warning that the potential purchase could have major consequences for U.S. democracy.
In an interview with MSNBC on Thursday, Warren said that Musk’s offer to buy Twitter, which Twitter agreed to earlier this week, makes the case that the country needs to “make two big changes” to its tax code and regulation of Big Tech.
“The first one is we need a wealth tax in America. And let’s talk about how Elon’s purchase here was subsidized by tens of millions of people who’ve paid their taxes every year,” she said. “The second part is we need rules of the road for Big Tech.”
Indeed, the only reason that Musk has the funds — or the financial leverage — to buy Twitter is because he has been allowed to accumulate an astounding amount of wealth over the course of the pandemic. In March of 2020, he was worth a little more than half of his $44 billion offer. Over the course of just two years, however, his wealth has skyrocketed by 1080 percent, largely tax-free.
Warren went on to say that she believes the most alarming thing about Musk’s offer isn’t necessarily his right-wing politics, but the implications about who is allowed to make decisions surrounding a platform that millions of Americans use to communicate. “Ultimately what all this boils down to is power. Who’s going to have the power in our country?” she asked.
“Are we going to make decisions as a democracy or is this going to be Elon Musk all by himself, off in a room, a bazillionaire, who just plays by his own set of rules? That’s really what’s at stake here,” she said, later adding that “it’s about one person making all of the decisions about how tens of millions of people will have an opportunity to communicate with each other.”
Though lawmakers have passed some regulations on Big Tech in attempts to rein in corporations, Warren says that the industry still lacks a set of regulations that could help increase competition and allow for more user freedom. While phone calls can be made to any phone owner, regardless of what network they use, the millions of Twitter or other social media users are constrained to only being able to communicate with other users of the same platform, she said.
“We need rules so that you can leave the Twitter platform and go to a competitor’s platform and still be able to reach each other. You have rules like that, then you actually have some competition,” she said. “Rules of the road could help facilitate that kind of competition and frankly break the stranglehold of someone like Elon Musk coming in and just owning the whole thing.”
Unlike if Musk were to buy a company that produces soap or cars, Warren emphasized that buying Twitter is about buying influence and power. Earlier this week, Warren tweeted that even just the fact that this kind of purchase could go through without any stopgaps is an indication that the country needs stronger regulations.
“One billionaire — whose estimated net worth has gotten about 10 times larger since the start of the pandemic — is about to have the power to decide how millions of people can communicate with each other,” she wrote. “It’s dangerous for our democracy to have so much power in so few hands.”
Social media and political experts have also sounded the alarm about Musk’s potential purchase, noting that there is already a long list of billionaires who own major communication-related entities, like Jeff Bezos’s ownership of The Washington Post, for example.
Musk claims to be a “free speech absolutist,” meaning in theory that users who regularly encourage bigoted harassment, violence, and otherwise would remain on the platform, as well as users who spread vast amounts of disinformation. Even just the news of his purchase appears to have driven tens of thousands of far right users to the platform. Unregulated internet forums are a breeding ground for fascists; platforms like 4chan and 8chan, which prided themselves on having no content moderation, have been linked to hate crimes and mass murders.