By Chris Stewart
A public feud between two of the most unlikable people on the planet, billionaires Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, has emerged recently. The rivalry between the two social media bosses has played out in the most pathetic way online, with Musk calling Zuckerberg a “cuck” on Twitter and the two seemingly agreeing to fight in a “cagematch” in Las Vegas.
Their personal feud comes from their competition in the market. Musk and Zuckerberg own two of the world’s largest social media companies – Twitter and Meta (previously Facebook). Meta recently launched ‘Threads’, a direct Twitter competitor hoping to capitalise on the chaos at Twitter since Musk took over the platform last year for $44 billion (3x its estimated value).
Musk’s disastrous Twitter takeover
One of Musk’s first acts as CEO was to sack nearly 4,000 workers desperately trying to claw back some money lost on this exceedingly bad business venture. Musk then proceeded to insult the sacked workers on his own Twitter account. Twitter has been plagued with technical problems and significant content moderation issues since. Hilariously, Musk is now threatening to sue Meta for hiring ex-Twitter employees (that he fired) to build ‘Threads’!
Twitter, which Musk is rebranding as ‘X’, has apparently lost 50% of its advertising revenue under his ownership. Partly this is because under Musk’s control, Twitter has become open-season for reactionaries, as hordes of accounts previously banned for hate speech have been reinstated. Musk himself has spent the last few months retweeting transphobic bigotry and racist conspiracy theories. According to researchers, Twitter has seen a dramatic spike in “hateful, violent and inaccurate posts” due to Musk’s changes.
Social media under capitalism
One of the world’s wealthiest men can simply take over a communications platform used by hundreds of millions of people worldwide is an indictment of capitalism.
Today, social media is a crucial part of the world’s information infrastructure. But the perverse incentives of profit mean that social media under capitalism is alienating and depressing for users.
Meta, Twitter and most other social media companies make most of their revenue through advertising. They have built sophisticated algorithms designed to keep us scrolling for as long as possible, designed to make people addicted and prey on our insecurities – this is not a bug; it is the defining feature of their business models.
Meta dominates the social media market with Instagram, Facebook and Whatsapp, reaching 3.6 billion people monthly. The invasive ways the company collects, analyses and profits from our data have been defined as ‘surveillance capitalism’. Recently, in a harrowing example of this, Meta handed over private messaging data to the police that led to the conviction of a young woman for procuring abortion pills in Nebraska.
Nationalise social media
The vast majority of internet traffic has been squeezed into a handful of privately owned social media sites in recent years, giving a handful of corporations immense power.
Instead of being designed wholly around profiteering and advertising, if social media was nationalised and taken out of the hands of creeps like Musk and Zuckerberg it could be rebuilt from the ground up and run democratically in the interests of working-class people – based on free access to information globally.
Alongside the redistribution of the massive wealth of billionaires to the majority of people, such a transformation could help unleash a new phase of cultural, political and intellectual life for billions of people worldwide.