ALICIA MENENDEZ (HOST): Mega-billionaire Elon Musk is on his way to join an elite billionaires boys club, one where powerful men control major media companies. A column in The Daily Beast argues Musk's takeover of Twitter might mirror the creation of Fox News, reads, quote, “When Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch started Fox News, they envisioned the channel as a counterbalance to the rest of the supposedly liberal media. Musk views Twitter in much the same way. Musk's vision of Twitter isn't simply as a platform free from constraints, but as an instrument to counterbalance the, quote, ‘woke’ social networks." The author of that piece, Angelo Carusone, joins me now. He is the president of Media Matters. Angelo, how do you fear — how else do you fear Elon Musk might take cues from the Fox News playbook?
ANGELO CARUSONE (MEDIA MATTERS PRESIDENT): I think a big part of this is it's sort of an update, right? I mean, when Fox News was first emerged, there was a value in, at least from the conservative side, of them speaking to their own audience, and that that does have power. But where Fox's real power came in is that they were actually able to warp newsrooms. And I think Elon Musk really saw Twitter as the best vehicle to do that because, you know, it is a little bit more nimble than the other social media platforms. It has a disproportionate amount of influence, given its user base. It's much smaller than, say, Facebook or YouTube, and yet it has a lot more, you know, journalists, active corporations, active decision-makers. So their engagement with that platform has significant downstream effects. And Twitter, compared to other platforms, has consistently been demonstrated that when they've taken action, like against manipulated media or against revenge porn or against certain disinformation, their action actually ended up having a spillover effect that forced other social media networks to follow suit. And I think he sees the capacity for Twitter to do that. But instead of as advancing the cause against extremism or disinformation, to unwind it, to actually be a vehicle to pressure platforms into taking the opposite direction.
MENENDEZ: So interesting. The Washington Post has new reporting digging into the rise of tech and media companies owned by rich, powerful men. It reads, quote, “The information that courses over these networks is increasingly produced by publications controlled by fellow billionaires who have filled the void of the collapsing profit-making journalism market with varying combinations of self-interest and altruism. The role of social media networks, which have largely replaced print newspapers as the way most Americans get their information, has complicated the issue, in part because so few networks are so dominant."
So I guess I have two questions there, which is like, one, this is where people are getting their news and information, right? We're not just like talking about a single platform. We are talking about a major way that a lot of people begin to process, analyze, synthesize the news. How does that trend, that larger trend, become harmful for our democracy?
CARUSONE: I mean, look, word of mouth is still the most effective form of advertising and marketing, but it's also the most effective form of political — of distributing political ideas, both good and bad. And so, and that trend is only going to continue and increase. So and addressing it at a platform level is going to only get more complicated as the threats get more complicated, as the platforms become more varied. So to me, what matters now is that we are still dealing with the consequences — and by no means are the platforms good — but they only recently started to grapple with a threat that was existing on their platform for the past 10 years. I mean, that's only in the last couple of years that they've started to respond. So this actually has the potential, even if Elon Musk does nothing — but one thing we do know is that Twitter as a vehicle for actually being one of the vanguards of addressing threats is no longer in play. And so even if he changes no policy, the one thing that we know is absolutely going to happen is that it will no longer serve that role. And so the ability of all the platforms, because the others are much less likely to take action, is greatly diminished. And that means that bad actors, the threat of disinformation and in particular extremism — and, you know, it ties in with some of your previous segments — all those threats, all of that has a much clearer landing strip to proliferate.
MENENDEZ: Angelo Carusone, I do at some point want to get your take on whether you stay or you go. I feel like it is the meta debate that is happening on Twitter right now, but we will save that for next time. Angelo Carusone, as always, thank you so much for being with us.