Elon Musk, Twitter: The 3rd phase of the War on Truth

MIDDLE ISRAEL: The war over the free world's soul, in which Twitter is a central arena, cannot be led by Big Business.

Elon Musk's twitter account is seen on a smartphone in front of the Twitter logo in this photo illustration taken, April 15, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC/ILLUSTRATION/FILE PHOTO)
Elon Musk's twitter account is seen on a smartphone in front of the Twitter logo in this photo illustration taken, April 15, 2022.

It was an offer they couldn’t refuse. Staring at $44 billion, Twitter’s board abandoned its refusal to sell the world’s most influential social network to the world’s most wealthy man. 

The original refusal was a noble, if quixotic attempt to say no to an industrial legend that bigger corporations are in no position to outplay. Having been listed on the New York Stock Exchange for nearly a decade, Twitter is now set to be wholly owned by Elon Musk

Considering that Twitter is a major arena, and weapon, in the War on Truth, this is a bad development, even regardless of Musk’s controversial record. 

The 50-year-old Musk has been blessed with entrepreneurial magic. 

Having earned his first fortune at 28, when Compaq paid $307 million for city-guide software he designed with his brother, Musk became a billionaire at 31, when an online banking company he formed (X.com) and an online payments company with which it merged (PayPal), were bought by e-commerce giant eBay for $1.5 billion.

 Elon Musk talks at the Automotive World News Congress at the Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan, January 13, 2015. (credit: REUTERS/REBECCA COOK) Elon Musk talks at the Automotive World News Congress at the Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan, January 13, 2015. (credit: REUTERS/REBECCA COOK)

Musk then proceeded to evoke the image of an enterprising idealist for whom bettering the world is an overarching goal, and soaring through the heavens is a practical aim. 

Musk thus became an electric-car pioneer through Tesla, an environmental crusader through Solar City, and a cosmic pathbreaker through SpaceX, which equips and serves voyages to outer space like the one Israeli astronaut Eytan Stibbe completed this week. Musk’s journey to his prickly status as the world’s richest man, with an estimated net worth of $150 billion, has thus been both impressive and inspiring. 

This doesn’t mean that his purchase of Twitter is the good news he wants us to think it is. 

TWITTER IS unique among social media, and as such also plays a central role in what this column has been calling the War on Truth. 

Twitter’s uniqueness is not in its numbers. Sixteen other social networks have more users with the largest, Facebook, counting as of January 2.9 billion, as opposed to Twitter’s 436 million. The revenue gap is even wider, with Facebook owner Meta garnering $117 billion last year, as opposed to Twitter’s $5 billion. 

What’s unique about Twitter is not the numbers, but the words, and not the what, but the who; the chieftains of politics and statecraft whose tweets have come to replace what once was done through chains of spokespersons, correspondents, editors, printers and distribution systems. 

Now everyone, from small-town mayors to leaders of superpowers address the community, city, country and the entire world directly and instantaneously by tipping a smartphone’s keyboard. With the exception of North Korea, world leaders use Twitter regardless of location, color or creed. 

“The Lord has risen!” Pope Francis reported last week before telling mankind: “Let us not tarry among the tombs, but run to find him,” shortly before Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reassured us in a tweet that “The US is getting weaker day by day – from within, in its domestic policies, in its foreign policies, in its economy and in its security.”

In between these two religious poles sprawl millions of celebrities and opinion makers, a testament to the genius of the formula that both reflected and further shrank humanity’s rapidly shortening attention span and redoubled its growing refusal to read, and inability to write, anything longer than several lines. 

This of course is no reason to care about who owns Twitter. The War on Truth is. 

THE WAR on Truth has been raging for the better part of a decade. Its generals are anti-democratic regimes, its targets are the free world’s values and institutions, and its weapons are hordes of hired liars who manage fake websites, manufacture fake talkbacks, and create fake social media accounts. Beyond them lurk commercial interests and unsolicited individuals who use Twitter to consciously spread lies. 

The existence of this scourge, the audacity of its masterminds, and its potential damage were laid bare when US intelligence agencies established that Russia activated thousands of accounts that represented fake Americans who agitated millions to tilt their presidential election. 

That was the war’s first phase. The second came when freedom began fighting back. 

In 2017, Twitter detected, and erased, 7,000 fake accounts which it traced to Iran. In 2019, the company traced 5,900 fake accounts to Saudi Arabia. Last year thousands of accounts backed the Saudi government following journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, using fake profile photos and similarly repetitive wording, according to a Washington Post report.  

The war’s second phase was underscored by Twitter’s erasure in recent years of thousands of fake accounts, and also authentic accounts that spread lies and hate, including Donald Trump’s. 

Now comes a third phase, in which Big Business says it, too, wants a role in the War on Truth. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong role, and the wrong warrior. 

MUSK SAYS he wants to relax Twitter’s moderation policies, and claims to be driven by concern for free speech. Whether or not this urge is related to the Security Exchange Commission’s charge that Musk misled investors by tweeting he secured funding for Tesla’s buyout – is anyone’s guess. (Musk settled the suit by paying a $20 million fine and resigning as Tesla’s chairman.) 

What’s not a matter of guessing is that social media, particularly Twitter, are major weapons in the War on Truth. This is very serious stuff; like, and in some respects even more than, a military war. That is why this war should be waged not by business but by government. 

Just like democracies don’t let tycoons buy and unleash soldiers, tanks and jets, they can’t outsource the War on Truth to Big Business, even when it is driven by nothing other than concern for freedom, a ​pretension which, in Elon Musk’s case, is questionable at best. 


The writer’s bestselling Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sefarim, 2019), is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.