Daniel Matamala Column: Superhero or Supervillain? – Third

“He’s a superhero,” celebrates Joe Rogan, the popular podcaster who has sparked worldwide controversy for encouraging anti-vaccine theories on his shows. “A genius. Liberal and uncompromising defender of freedom of expression,” adds Chilean economist José Luis Daza.

They applaud Elon Musk, and his decision to buy Twitter for $44 billion. And they do it in the name of freedom. “Musk is an anti-censorship libertarian. For humanity, it is worth taking the risk and seeing what he does with Twitter”, celebrates Daza.

For these “liberals”, freedom of expression and democracy are protected by concentrating even more power in the richest man on the planet.

If you are reading this column in La Tercera, you are probably aware that this outlet is owned by businessman and banker Álvaro Saieh. If you are reading it on Instagram, or if a friend shared it with you on Facebook, or if your aunt forwarded it to you on WhatsApp, you may not be so aware that you are in the monopoly empire of one of the biggest tycoons in the world, Mark Zuckerberg. . Did you find it googling? So you are in the land of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, 6th and 7th billionaires on the planet respectively. And well, we already know about Twitter.

One of the central concerns of liberalism is to avoid the concentration of power. Sadly, many self-styled “liberals” seem blind to the danger posed by the concentration of economic power in a handful of tycoons.

That power overrides democratic institutions. It is a “race to the bottom”, in which multinationals push countries to compete with each other by charging lower and lower taxes: between 1985 and 2019 the average corporate tax rate in the world fell from 49% to 23%.

The IMF calculates that the profits of multinationals in the world correspond to US$7.9 trillion, or 9.2% of world GDP. And, always according to the IMF, between 4.8 and 5.5 billion dollars a year are “excessive profits”, which go directly to the coffers of the owners of these multinationals.

That economic power inevitably also concentrates political power and shapes public discussion. Big tech are already more powerful forces than any democratic institution. They set the limits of freedom of expression, the use of personal data or the tolerance of hate speech.

As Robert Reich, former US Secretary of Labor, sums it up: “Zuckerberg owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Jeff Bezos, The Washington Post. Elon Musk, Twitter. When billionaires take control of our most vital communication platforms, it’s not a victory for free speech. It is a victory for the oligarchy.”

This oligarchy is also stubborn in a competition of unlimited egos. As Goethe says in Faust, “If I can pay for six foals, are not their forces mine? I lead them and I am a complete gentleman, as if I had twenty-four legs”.

Let’s think about the space race. In the 20th century, the engine of that race was geopolitical and ideological, with the United States and the Soviet Union competing to prove the superiority of their political systems through the conquest of space. In the 21st century, it’s merely personal, with the egos of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos vying to be the first to dominate space.

The cosmos is no longer the heritage of brave people, chosen after years of training, with a privileged physical state and psychological condition. Now to be an astronaut it is enough to have money to buy the ticket: the contemporary equivalent of paying for six foals and feeling that you have 24 legs.

It is that money, as Shakespeare says in “The Helm of Athens”, “can turn white, black; the ugly, beautiful; the false, true; I lower it; noble; the old, young; the cowardly, brave”.

And Elon Musk, a superhero.

By the way, several of these billionaires have risen to the pinnacle of power on their own merits. They are entrepreneurs who have innovated by creating companies like Amazon, PayPal, Tesla or Facebook. But by growing without limits and taking over markets, they concentrate power and limit competition: the best example is the monster Facebook, which bought Instagram and WhatsApp to form a global communications monopoly.

If he completes the purchase of Twitter, the world’s richest man will have absolute power to say what hate speech can be allowed, which users (such as former President Trump) should be allowed, and how the algorithms that define which tweets become more or less likely will work. less visible to our eyes. He will have a formidable tool to negotiate more public money, like the one he has already obtained for Tesla (a US$465 million state credit) or for SpaceX (which is largely financed by contracts with the state-owned NASA).

One of his first announcements was to “verify all humans” who use Twitter. “Great news, the hooded people on Twitter will end and the debate will improve,” celebrated Senator Felipe Kast. But you have to be very naive not to understand that this means giving Musk the personal data of millions of people, who are the oil of the 21st century and the power base of big tech.

Remember: when a product is free, the product is you.

Musk says that Twitter “is extremely important to the future of civilization.” If we agree, should something so important depend on the supposed goodwill of a single man? Incredibly, for many self-styled “liberals,” the answer is that we should not only allow it, but even celebrate it.

Everyone can have their own opinion on whether Musk, Zuckerberg or Bezos are superheroes or supervillains. It doesn’t matter, because the world is not a Marvel movie. In real life, concentrating so much power in one person, no matter how well-intentioned, is always a bad idea for Humanity.

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Daniel Matamala Column: Superhero or Supervillain? – Third