Discover more from Lean Out with Tara Henley
All things Elon
The Great Elite Panic of 2022, or, unpacking blue checkmark meltdowns
Twitter is global headquarters for public meltdowns, so seeing a mass panic erupt on the platform is not unusual. Hyperbole and hysteria are the norm — pretty much just your average Tuesday. But the furor over Elon Musk stands out, even for Twitter.
In the unlikely event that you haven’t heard: Elon Musk has reached a deal to acquire the platform for 44 billion. And the blue checkmarks need to be talked off the ledge.
To scroll Twitter today is not to take in the news that yet another captain of industry is in charge of yet another influential organ of mass media, but rather to be subjected to a great, collective, incoherent howl of moral outrage.
Which — Twitter being Twitter — is swiftly being converted into a tidal wave of alarmist press pieces. At The New York Times alone: Twitter under Elon Musk will be a scary place; Elon Musk is a notorious pothead; he is a “combative billionaire” and a “relative dilettante” on free speech, who “has said Twitter should be a haven for unfettered expression”; Twitter has an Elon Musk problem. Also: “What happens when the incarnation of a problem buys the right to decide what the problem is and how to fix it?”
Now, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I would prefer that the de facto town square was not in the hands of an unelected billionaire.
But let’s acknowledge that this is the world that we already live in — and have been living in for some time (as Katie Herzog jokes below).
And let’s also notice that nobody seemed all that interested in talking about billionaire wealth and influence last month.
So perhaps the great Elon Musk panic of 2022 is not actually about that. Or, at least, not all about that.
Perhaps the panic we’re witnessing is, at least in part, about the woke Twitter consensus defending itself against a growing backlash. A backlash of people who would prefer not to be told what they are allowed to say and think.
Maybe this is actually about free speech in general, and the freedom to disagree with blue checkmark Twitter in particular.
Maybe there’s a whole lot of people out there — including many on the left — who feel as Freddie deBoer does:
I need free speech because I don’t have the faith this army of sneering white dudes has that I know everything, that every debate has already been settled and we just need to let the goodies rule over the baddies. I don’t think everything is obvious. I don’t think all political questions are easy. So I need free speech in order to be exposed to all kinds of ideas, including ones I find deeply offensive, because it’s through the friction of philosophical conflict that new and better ideas arise. And I need free speech because the socialist politics that are core to my identity are at present vastly unpopular in this country, despite what you might hear in Brooklyn or on the NBC News Slack, and the only way that changes is through the long, slow, uncool work of gradual persuasion. Collins and his coterie are content to lol and giggle and sneer and pose because for them politics is only a means through which they position themselves socially, a way to be somebody. Well, I want to be somebody too - I want to be somebody whose politics can win. The preening, loling default of leftist politics Collins represents is a cul de sac. People like that want to hide on Twitter and laugh at it all while their enemies run up the score. And what they care about most is keeping it a fun place to hang out.
Maybe, just maybe, this is about the utterly unappealing nature of the woke media hive mind, which Twitter epitomizes.
To quote Michelle Goldberg, of The New York Times, no less: “This vibe shift was predictable; when the left becomes grimly censorious, it incubates its own opposition.”
Lean Out with Tara Henley is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.