When you pay for Twitter, Musk will ride on your back to Mars

Wednesday May 04 2022
Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk. PHOTO | AFP


The last time I glanced away from social media for a bit, Mark Zuckerberg decided to put himself in an advert for his new platform Meta that will scar our psyches for generations to come.

This time round, reassured that Twitter would never sell its soul to The Musk, we all blinked when, hey presto! Twitter sold its soul to The Musk.

I can’t be the only person who is bummed out that Elon Musk is going to be the majority shareholder of Twitter. Long before he became the subject of Millennial as well as Generation Z jokes about his strangeness of being, I found him off-putting without knowing why.

Over time, as with anyone with that much money, we have come to know that he is a great investor but maybe not a great person.

In fact, the latest cracks I have heard are that the three publicly richest men in the world — Musk, Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos — are “otherworldly” and they are not meant as compliments. Of the three, Zuckerberg has done the best at convincing us that he may not be fully human, but Bezos and Elon Musk are not far behind him in their eccentricities.

Social media


My worry is about freedom of information. I don’t see how Musk’s acquisition of Twitter is a good thing for the users of the platform, or for free speech. Without being the outlets themselves, social media have provided an excellent conduit for information on where to find information.

Even with the problems that have come with their spreading of misinformation, they remain a very important tool for people to tell each other all sorts of things.

Free speech, news stories and the written word depend on very many factors few of which are within the powers of the actual speaker or writer. I would argue that these restrictions take little away from the craft and art of journalism itself.

Sometimes the environment is very restrictive to the point where journalists, and even ordinary people, censor themselves.

Every so often someone touches the boundaries and we all get to find out where they are, whether things have changed. This is where the internet can step in. Online there is a constant if low-key race to keep the doors open rather than closed. And even this is not guaranteed.

About a month ago someone wrote an article about a political situation that is so notoriously difficult and dangerous that I hesitate to even name it. It was a decent piece but very daring and was hosted on an online outlet as they are far more capable of this kind of material than traditional media. Nonetheless the outlet got attacked and eventually the article disappeared.

Additionally, after the Arab Spring I think that governments put a lot more thought into the political uses of social media than activists did. Over time we have seen the spread of unapologetic restrictions of the internet.

In Tanzania, as in most African countries, this happens during elections. We have experienced it. If it can happen once, it can happen again and again because, if there is one thing that governments do not shy away from, it is power and control. In this, I do not think they differ much from powerful men whose motivation in life is to acquire almost endlessly.

Aggressive move

This is why I wonder what the repercussions of Musk owning controlling stake in Twitter will mean for users. I cannot imagine that such an aggressive move to take over such a massive platform is coming with noble intentions to widen access, protect privacy, resist government requests for information on users or control of the platform and other unfortunate things.

After all, one of the changes Musk announced that he was considering was charging users for the Blue Tick on Twitter, which can be acquired once a user reaches 10,000 followers or more. Monetisation of even more free features is around the corner, probably.

Living here I see so many barriers to entry into social media as it is: One has to own a device, then get a SIM card, which is now registered using biometrics and tied to your national identity number.

I hope Kenya continues to resist any attempts to end up where we are.

After the device and SIM card, a user has to buy data, which is continuously made expensive by inflation and mad taxation. After that a little savvy is needed to figure out the various bundles and finally get online.

Musk is a man who spends too much time telling us that with a bit of hard work — and a heck of a lot of money — we could be colonising Mars.

Is such a man, who is relentless thirsty in technology, going to leave well enough alone when it comes to one of the most used and arguably essential social media platforms?

I doubt it. I see him trying to ride to the Red Planet on the backs of users who are going to pay for it, whether they want to or not.

Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report: E-mail: [email protected]