AUSTIN, TEXAS – Elon Musk’s proposed takeover of Twitter has ruffled many feathers among professional commentators. “Musk is the wrong leader for Twitter’s vital mission,” read one Bloomberg headline. The network also insisted, “Nothing in the Tesla CEO’s track record suggests he will be a careful steward of an important media property.” “Elon Musk is the last person who should take over Twitter,” wrote Max Boot in The Washington Post, explaining that “[h]e seems to believe that on social media anything goes. For democracy to survive, we need more content moderation, not less.” The irony of outlets owned by Michael Bloomberg and Jeff Bezos warning of the dangers of permitting a billionaire oligarch to control our media was barely commented upon.
Added to this, a host of celebrities publicly left the social media platform in protest against the proposed $44 billion purchase. This only seemed to confirm to many free speech-minded individuals that the South African billionaire was a renegade outsider on a mission to save the internet from authoritarian elite control (despite the fact that he is borrowing money from the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia in order to do so).
Musk has deliberately cultivated this image of himself: a real life Tony Stark figure who thinks for himself and is not part of the established order. But behind this carefully constructed façade, Musk is intimately connected to the U.S. national security state, serving as one of its most important business partners. Elon, in short, is no threat to the powerful, entrenched elite: he is one of them.
TO UKRAINE, WITH LOVE
Musk, whose estimated $230 billion fortune is more than twice the gross domestic product of Ukraine, has garnered a great deal of positive publicity for donating thousands of Starlink terminals to the country, helping its people come back online after fighting downed the internet in much of the country. Starlink is an internet service allowing those with terminals to connect to one of over 2,400 small satellites in low Earth orbit. Many of these satellites were launched by Musk’s SpaceX technologies company.
However, it soon transpired that there is far more than meets the eye with Musk’s extraordinary “donation.” In fact, the U.S. government quietly paid SpaceX top dollar to send their inventory to the warzone. USAID – a government anti-insurgency agency that has regularly functioned as a regime-change organization – is known to have put up the cash to purchase and deliver at least 1,330 of the terminals.
Starlink is not a mass-market solution. Each terminal – which is, in effect, a tiny, portable satellite dish – has a markedly limited range, and is useful only in hyper-local situations. Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation, estimated that the 10,000 Starlink terminals were allowing around 150,000 people to stay online.
Such a small number of people using the devices raises eyebrows. Who is important enough to be given such a device? Surely only high-value individuals such as spies or military operatives. That the Starlinks are serving a military purpose is now beyond clear. Indeed, in a matter of weeks, Starlink has become a cornerstone of the Ukrainian military, allowing it to continue to target Russian forces via drones and other high-tech machinery dependent on an internet connection. One official told The Times of London that he “must” use Starlink to target enemy forces via thermal imaging.