Shocked at Elon Musk buying Twitter? Then you should also be ‘shocked’ at…

Since when has it become so very compulsory for absolutely everyone out there (and his dog, and his dog’s puppies, etc.) to even have any kind of opinion whatsoever… about ‘the spending habits of the filthy, filthy rich’

… well, ‘Malta’s entire economic model’, I suppose. 

And to be honest, I’m half tempted to just stop there: if nothing else, to set a whole new world record for ‘shortest Sunday opinion column ever published’ (to be filed alongside all the other ‘world records’ we’ve been setting recently: e.g., “World’s Youngest Member of Parliament”; “World’s Most Corrupt Country”; etc. etc.)

But let’s face it: if I were to actually sign off, right here and now… it would be just as gimmicky (and farcical) as those other ‘world records’ I just mentioned, above. So without further ado… onto the rest of the article. 

Let me start with this: at the time of writing, my Facebook feed seems to be neatly divided into two, equally vociferous categories of (mostly, anyway) hot-headed, tub-thumping fanatics. 

OK: nothing ‘new’ there, I am the first to admit. But what I find intriguing – if not downright mystifying – is what they’re all getting so worked up about, this time. 

That is to say: Elon Musk’s decision to buy out Twitter, for a measly E44 billion. 

Can you believe it? Roughly half the comments I’m seeing, right now, are by people who feel extraordinarily ‘outraged’ by that particular corporate acquisition: in some cases, even to the extent of cancelling (or threatening to cancel) their own Twitter accounts.

Conversely, the other half seem to be comments written directly by Elon Musk himself; or by his own corporate PR department. You know: making him out like some kind of ‘Avenging Crusader’, on a mission from God to ‘put the Freedom part back into Free Speech’ (and other, equally idiotic drivel…).

Hmmm. OK, maybe there’s something I’m just not seeing, in all this; but to be perfectly frank, neither of those reactions seems very rational to me. 

For starters: since when has it become so very compulsory for absolutely everyone out there (and his dog, and his dog’s puppies, etc.) to even have any kind of opinion whatsoever… about ‘the spending habits of the filthy, filthy rich’?

And such strongly-felt opinions, too! Because… well, this is the part I don’t actually get, when it comes to the crunch. 

That people would be vaguely interested in Elon Musk’s latest shopping spree, I can more or less understand. It does, after all, have certain ramifications for issues such as ‘censorship’; ‘freedom of expression’, ‘cancel culture’, and so on…. 

But then again: so did Rupert Murdoch’s ownership of so much of the British press, until so recently; and so had Silvio Berlusconi’s political stranglehold over the Italian media landscape, back in the 1990s… and so, for that matter, does the political ownership of television stations in Malta, all the way down to this day….

In fact, while Elon Musk might certainly be the wealthiest oligarch to have ever dabbled in media-ownership, by some distance… he is not exactly the first, is he now? 

Which, naturally, brings me to the starkest irony in all this: i.e., that all these concerns are being raised on… wait for it… Facebook, no less! You know: another world-dominating social media platform, that (in case nobody’s noticed) is: 

a) also owned by a ‘filthy rich gazillionaire’; 

b) also wields massive discretionary power over who can, and cannot, comment on its boards; and above all;

c) unlike Elon Musk, Zuckerberg has already spent years abusing that disproportionate power of his (not to mention his access to, and exploitation of, Facebook users’ personal data) on a hitherto unimaginable scale.

So… isn’t it somewhat slightly late in the day, to be suddenly waking up to this reality only now? And even then: only in a case where – at the time of writing, anyway – the acquisition itself hasn’t even technically happened yet…? 

Meanwhile, there is a second, entirely understandable aspect – albeit on an emotional (and therefore, entirely irrational) level – to this same kneejerk reaction. 

After all, some people out there do use platforms like ‘Twitter’ – in fact, there is even a word for them in the English language: ‘twits’ – so it follows that they would consider any change to Twitter’s ownership structure, to be of direct concern to themselves. (Much in the same way that some people had likewise stopped buying ‘Rummo’ pasta, the moment they realised it was imported by Keith Schembri).

The problem there, however, is that… well, it’s the same as the first, I suppose. Why only now? And why only Twitter, anyway? 

I mean: didn’t the same people get just as upset – and for the same reason, too! – when the private bank that they’d been using for 20 years, was suddenly purchased by an international global banking giant named HSBC? Or whenever their mobile phone (or Internet, or both) service provider is just gobbled up, from one moment to the next, by precisely the same sort of corporate takeover? Or heck… even when their favourite neighbourhood restaurant is sold off – just like that! – to be redeveloped into… well, what do you know? Yet another goddamn block of flats?

OK: now I will ‘stop myself there’… because my mind is suddenly reeling with examples of all sorts of other, equally mundane business transactions – mostly of the kind that are conducted on the international stock market, each and every single day – that could (with only a little imagination) be broadly compared to Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter. 

In fact, I fail to see why this particular acquisition should be treated any differently from all the other (major and minor) companies that likewise just ‘change hands’, from time to time… and invariably, without their users ever being consulted in the matter. For instance, Google’s takeover of Android in 1998; or AT&T and Time Warner in 2005 (where the sum of money involved was actually twice that spent by Musk: $85.4 billion, to be precise…)

That’s not to say, of course, that there was nothing to ring alarm-bells in any of those other cases; or – even less – that there is nothing at all to worry about in the case of the Twitter sale, either.

It’s just that: well, you can’t really complain about one, but not the other. There is, after all, a word to describe the particular economic model which actually permits all those transactions to occur in the first place (including the greediest, and most mercenary of corporate takeovers known to man.) 

It’s called ‘capitalism’; and – while, again, I understand that some people might have strong opinions about it (I do myself, as it happens) – it also represents the entire modus operandi into which we are all currently plugged anyway: whether we like it, or not.

The bottom line, I suppose, is that: if you’re going to complain about ‘Elon Musk buying Twitter’… then, for consistency’s sake, you should also be complaining about all the other, myriad ways in which the ‘filthy, filthy rich’ (even much further down the wealth-scale) always get to just ‘buy whatever they want’ – including influence over power, by the way – just by doing the one thing they actually CAN do, that others can’t. 

That is to say: spend shit-loads of (sometimes, other people’s) MONEY…

And just to put all that into at least a tiny bit of context: take Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba, for example. 

When contacted by the local press for his reaction (note: exactly why this even happened at all is another mystery… but let’s not digress), his reply included such nuggets as: 

“Elon Musk did not like the way Twitter was run… so he just bought it!”; 

“$44 billion is not what you call a bargain, but it seems nothing is too expensive for the richest man on earth.”

“Today we are living in a world where the super-rich can buy out platforms to change their rules to their liking.”

“It’s shocking enough that one individual can acquire a global service like Twitter on his own…”

See what I mean? The question almost asks itself, really. 

But I’ll ask it all the same. If Alex Agius Saliba finds it so very ‘shocking’ that ‘the super-rich can buy out platforms’… then how very ‘shocked’ must he be, at the fact that they can also buy Maltese passports, for a measly ‘€1 million’ a pop? 

Not exactly what you’d call a bargain either, is it? Certainly, it’s just as unaffordable as Elon Musk’s $44 billion… to the thousands of other foreigners who – unlike the lucky ‘Golden-Passport’-buyers – actually ARE domiciled in this country; actually ARE entitled to either Maltese citizenship, or (at minimum) temporary residence… and yet who are routinely put through interminable bureaucratic hoops and hurdles, just to get what is theirs by right.

And while I’m at it: if it is so utterly inconceivable, that these ‘super-rich’ can also ‘change the rules to their liking’… what does Alex Agius Saliba have to say about local contractors and developers – like Joseph Portelli, for instance: and there are others – who always seem to get exactly the sort of development permit they want (even ‘against the rules’; and despite negative recommendations by case officers, etc.)… shortly after boasting, on live TV, about all the money they regularly ‘donates to both parties’…?

Once again, my mind reels with literally countless other examples – where the ‘super-rich’ just buy out whatever ‘platforms’ they like… invariably, ‘changing all the rules’ in the process – without people like Alex Agius Saliba ever complaining too loudly about it…

But I reckon the point has been made, by now; so I really will ‘stop here’, this time