Monday 04 July, 2022

Al-Estiklal Newspaper

How Did the Awareness of Generations Become a Hostage to Tech Billionaires?

2022/05/10 14:05:00 | Reports
“Big tech companies that dominate digital content exercise the power of knowledge across borders.”
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After many weeks of speculation, the world woke up on April 25, 2022, to the announcement that American businessman Elon Musk had acquired the most influential global platform, Twitter, through a huge deal valued at $44 billion.

Following this announcement, Musk, the richest man in the world, confirmed, through his Twitter account, that he had acquired the platform in order to preserve freedom of expression, as it is essential to activating democracy, as he put it.

But this story did not like the White House, from which the most powerful and influential country in the world is run politically, economically, scientifically, and technically, and is behind the formation of the global map in its current form for more than half a century ago.

Commenting on the acquisition, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, President Joe Biden has long worried about the power of the big social media platforms, regardless of who owns or runs Twitter.

Psaki added that “the US administration deals regularly with all social media platforms, and there are reforms that Congress can take regarding developments in social media platforms soon,” which may pave the way for a significant influence between the two sides on shaping and leading global awareness.

 

New World

Regardless of Musk's real goals behind turning Twitter into a private company in which he has the final say, his purchase of a strategic platform such as Twitter brought back to the fore the issue of tech billionaires acquiring the media and communication that influence the formation of peoples' awareness and conscience, especially the younger generations.

In recent years, the world has begun to be held hostage by a small group of billionaires, who, through these platforms, can influence it according to their own agendas, without moral or legal restrictions.

Musk is not the first to have a platform with this influence, as American billionaire Jeff Bezos, founder of the e-commerce and cloud computing giant Amazon, previously acquired the famous Washington Post newspaper for $250 million in 2013.

In 2018, the American businessman, Marc Benioff, bought the famous Time magazine for about $190 million. He is also a tech billionaire and owns the cloud software company Salesforce.

After Twitter's board of directors agreed to sell the company to Elon Musk, this became the third largest deal in tech company history.

First comes Microsoft's acquisition, the world's largest software company, of Activision Blizzard, the American video game giant, owner of popular games and influence on teenagers and young adults, such as Candy Crush, Call of Duty, and World of Warcraft.

This deal took place in early 2022, 3 months before Musk acquired Twitter, and was valued at $68.7 billion.

Second, the American computer and tech giant Dell's acquisition of data storage company EMC, worth $67 billion.

Commenting on this development, US tech expert Parmy Olson wrote, “What is really upsetting about the Twitter purchase is that Musk will not be responsible to anyone but himself.”

“When the company goes private, Musk can dissolve Twitter's board of directors. If he doesn't, any other council will probably have no power,” she added in an article published by Bloomberg on April 28.

“This is nothing new in technology, as checks and balances are often ineffective. However, this trend is having increasingly devastating repercussions,” Olson noted.

“Founders of big tech companies like Mark Zuckerberg (Meta Platforms), Sergey Brin, and Larry Page, (Alphabet) present themselves as autocrats in the modern age of business,” she said.

The tech expert attributed this approach to the way these billionaires have organized their companies' initial public offering and voting shares over the past decade.

In fact, Zuckerberg owns a majority of the voting shares in Meta Platform, while billionaires Brin and Page control a 51 percent stake in Alphabet's shares. This gives them absolute control over influential platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp (for the first), and Google and YouTube (for the second and third),” Olson said.

“The founders of Airbnb and Snap each have about 44 percent of voting control in their companies,” she said.

 

Single Vision

Despite his criticism of restrictions targeting freedom of expression, and his claims that he will bring more amendments to Twitter to support the values of democracy and other opinions, Musk's real vision about the future of the platform is still murky.

On the other hand, experts believe that the absence of content moderation in a social media platform such as Twitter will become a concern for advertisers interested in their brand, who don't want their ads to appear alongside controversial posts.

There is concern that Musk will make Twitter an arena without effective censorship that allows its users to post tweets calling for hate and violence or posting misleading and pornographic materials.

Like other social media platforms, Twitter relies heavily on ads, which represent about 90 percent of the company's revenue, which amounted to $5.1 billion in 2021.

Twitter is not a hugely profitable platform compared to Facebook and Tik Tok, but it is, on the other hand, the most credible platform for serious news and content, and the most used by politicians, journalists, and businessmen.

On its part, the Guardian reported on April 24 that the world's richest men, like Musk, are using their vast fortunes to build a world unconstrained by laws or accountability.

It explained that “the justifications of businessmen such as Musk for their motives by using the word freedom, their goal is, in fact, freedom from accountability,” stressing that Musk's real goal is not related to the freedom of others, but rather his goal is his unrestricted freedom.”

Also, the New York Times said on April 25 that “the reasons for Musk's control of Twitter are not about freedom of expression, but about controlling the loudspeaker.”

These accusations are in line with Musk's behavior, which is followed by about 83 million people on Twitter. He often used his account to confuse the financial and business markets, by directing the opinions of his followers to support or attack certain topics such as cryptocurrencies, soft drinks, and other communication platforms.

As well as promoting the activities and projects of his two most famous companies, SpaceX for launching rockets and satellites, and Tesla for electric cars.

 

Absent Accountability

All of this goes against modern ideas of corporate governance, which see strict accountability as a good thing. Without these constraints, tech leaders are free to make volatile decisions, Harvard Business School professor of leadership David Yoffie told Bloomberg on April 28.

“Sometimes these decisions can be beneficial to business, for example, when Mark Zuckerberg bought Instagram for $1 billion in 2012, the small target had no revenue, and did not seek permission from its board of directors to buy it,” he added.

“But after seven years, Instagram has contributed $20 billion to Facebook's annual sales, yet the issue must be looked at from another angle,” Yoffie added.

He explained by saying: “As multiple studies showed that Instagram, under the supervision of Zuckerberg, was associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide among adolescents in particular.”

This was confirmed by the former Facebook data engineer, Francis Hogan, when she revealed in the “60 Minutes” program on CBS on October 04, 2021, that Zuckerberg chooses financial profit over the safety of users of his applications.

Before she resigned from Facebook in May 2021, Hogan took internal company documents with her and leaked them to US lawmakers and the Wall Street Journal.

These documents revealed that Facebook has been researching Instagram for 3 years to determine its effects on teenagers, and confirmed that 32 percent of teenage girls felt that using the application gave them a more negative image of their body, causing them what is known as self-esteem addiction, in order to show themselves in the best picture even if it was fake.

Apart from that, the billionaires of social media platforms are also accused of hacking and stealing user data and re-evaluating it through artificial intelligence to achieve the largest amount of profits.

These data are considered by many experts as the new oil for many political, financial, and commercial institutions.

 

Awareness Struggle

Regarding this crisis, the expert in electronic affairs, Dr. Adel Abdel-Sadek, said that “as much as the digital revolution provided new opportunities for human society for power, knowledge and wealth, it also brought unprecedented threats with regard to their nature or levels of confrontation.”

He added in an article published by the Arab Center for Cyberspace Research on February 12, 2022, that “big tech companies that control digital content are beginning to exercise the power of knowledge, and use it to achieve financial goals or employ it to serve foreign policies and impose their soft power across borders.”

Dr. Abdel-Sadek explained that “the companies that monopolize this revolution employ sound and visual effects in the battle to capture hearts and minds to increase the number of views through the use of propaganda tactics to persuade and to make the impact more profound in awareness, both individual and collective.”

“The industry of individual awareness is the first building block in collective awareness, and it is a cumulative process with short and long-term dimensions, which makes the human being set out to contribute to building human civilization or vice versa,” according to what the digital expert confirmed.

On her part, the US tech expert, Parmy Olson, expected that “the most effective treatment for this crisis would come from other billionaires, just like the biggest impact on Facebook's unscrupulous data-collection practices that came from Apple, led by billionaire Tim Cook.”

That's when it provided an option that allows customers to prevent Zuckerberg's company from tracking them after Facebook and its applications get all the data you want without the permission of the user.

 


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References:

1

Musk and Other Tech Billionaires Are Out of Control

2

Elon Musk wants to own Twitter to protect his ‘freedom’, not everyone else’s

3

Twitter Under Elon Musk Will Be a Scary Place

4

Opportunities to build awareness in the digital age [Arabic]

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elon musk global awareness mark zuckerberg social media platforms tech billionaires twitter