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Elon Musk’s Twitter deal revives calls for wealth tax and warnings against billionaires’ power to ‘distort’ politics

A deal for the world’s richest person to buy social media company Twitter for $44 billion has raised alarm bells over the concentration of billionaires’ power on social media platforms and how they will be used to shape both public policy and the economic interests of the people who run them.

The massive purchase of Elon Musk has also reignited calls from members of Congress and other critics to demand that US billionaires pay higher taxes, while questioning Mr. Musk’s public and personal interests in spending so much money to control the platform.

“Tax the Rich” mentioned US Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal. “It’s absurd that a person can afford to buy Twitter for more than [$44bn] while working families across the country must choose between groceries or their prescription drugs every day.

Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has frequently argued with Mr Musk over his tax obligations, called the case “dangerous for our democracy”.

“Billionaires like Elon Musk play by a different set of rules than everyone else, hoarding power for their own gain. We need a wealth tax and tough rules to hold Big Tech accountable,” she said.

While Twitter has a relatively smaller footprint than Facebook and Instagram, which boast billions of daily users, it has an outsized influence in political discourse and the media, and a prolific and toxic mix of misinformation and harassment that has plagued many platforms.

In a statement announcing the deal, Musk said “freedom of speech is the foundation of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital public square where issues vital to the future of Europe are debated. humanity”.

“Twitter has enormous potential – I look forward to working with the company and the user community to unlock it,” he said.

Chuck Collins of the Institute for Policy Studies said in a statement to The Independent that “we should be alarmed and concerned that the richest person on the planet is buying the public square of social media”.

“The difference between an entrepreneur and an oligarch is that an oligarch deploys his wealth to acquire media and capture political systems to advance his own wealth, power and influence,” he said. “Although there have always been plutocratic owners of the media, since Hearst and Pulitzer, the levels of concentration of wealth and power in 2022 have created a class of billionaires with considerable power to shape and distort democratic discourse and economic policy.”

Anthony D Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, acknowledged that Mr Musk is a “card-carrying” supporter of the organization, but said that “there is a lot of danger in having so much power in the hands of one individual.”

“In today’s world, a small handful of private technology companies – including Twitter – play a profound and unique role in enabling our right to express ourselves online,” he said in a statement. . “Social media is an essential tool used to share ideas, express opinions and consume information that has real impacts on discourse in the offline world. We should be concerned that a powerful central player, that whether it is a government or a wealthy individual – even if it is a member of the ACLU – has so much control over the boundaries of our political discourse online.

On April 25, White House press secretary Jen Psaki, when asked for a response to Mr Musk’s purchase, said she “would not comment on a specific transition”, but did reiterated that President Joe Biden’s administration continues to believe that “no matter who owns or operates Twitter, the President has long been concerned about the power of large social media platforms” and stressed that “tech platforms must be held accountable of the damage they cause.

She pointed to congressional bipartisan interest in antitrust measures and reform of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Asked if the White House is concerned about the spread of election-related misinformation and the concentrated control of billionaires on social media platforms, Ms. Psaki said the administration has “spoken for a long time, and the President has long talked about the powers of social media”. media platforms… to spread misinformation, misinformation [and] the need for these platforms to be held accountable.

It remains unclear whether Mr. Musk intends to revoke the kinds of policies Twitter has implemented to combat certain forms of harassment and misinformation, though he has long bristled with censored posts on behalf of “free speech” and won praise from the right. Republican figures and officials who have criticized the company for blocking misinformation and hate speech.

“I hope Elon Musk helps bring Big Tech’s history to censorship of users who have a different point of view under control,” mentioned Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.

Georgian far-right MP Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose personal account was suspended for repeatedly violating the platform’s Covid-19 disinformation policies, mentioned ‘Blue check’ users – referring to verified liberal users and members of the press who conservatives refer to as ‘blue checks’ – will have a ‘meltdown’ after Mr Musk ‘seals the deal and I should restore my personal Twitter account.

Women’s advocacy organization Ultraviolet has warned that Mr Musk could ‘open Pandora’s box and reopen the floodgates for hate and baseless conspiracy theories’ to proliferate on the platform, following the right-wing outrage that the platform has censored or deleted accounts for amplifying misinformation about Covid-19, hate speech and other forms of abuse.

“Without any strings attached to Musk buying Twitter, the platform’s Community Standards, and recourse to ban users who violate those standards, Twitter could set a dangerous precedent for other social media companies to follow,” the chief information officer said. group communications, Bridget Todd, in a statement. “It’s a massively slippery slope.”

The purchase also sparked a debate about the moral obligations and responsibilities of holding so much money, more than 14 times what the New York City Department of Homeless Services spent in 2021.

While Mr. Musk said he paid more federal taxes than anyone else, to the tune of $11 billion for 2021, his company Tesla paid nothing in federal taxes for that year.

ProPublica investigation found Mr. Musk paid no federal income tax in 2018; he paid an effective tax rate of 3.27%, or $455 million, for his wealth growth of $13.9 billion over the five-year period between 2014 and 2018.

This compares to the average single American worker who earns $45,000 and pays an average tax rate of 21%.

In 2018, the top rate on ordinary income was 37%, while the average tax rate for the 400 richest people in the United States was 22% between 2013 and 2018, according to ProPublica.

While his taxable income over that five-year period was $1.52 billion, he paid no federal income tax in 2018, according to the report.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr. Musk’s wealth grew from $24 billion to more than $2.736 billion.

Mr Musk – with an estimated net worth of $273.6 billion as of April 14 – has been on the Forbes list of global billionaires for a decade, with his massive wealth attributed to Tesla’s stock surge and volatility.

In 2012, when he made his debut on the Forbes listing, his net worth was estimated at $2 billion. Mr. Musk is now estimated to be $68 billion richer than just a year ago.

Last month, President Biden proposed a minimum tax on U.S. households worth more than $10 million, which would pay a 20% tax rate on income as well as unrealized gains related to other assets, such as stocks and bonds, which are not currently taxed. until they are sold.

The president said one-hundredth of one percent of Americans would be subject to the tax, which he called “fair, and it brings in $360 billion that can be used to cut costs for families and reduce the deficit.

More than half of the revenue generated would come from households worth more than $1 billion.

This proposal could see Mr. Musk with a tax bill of at least $50 billion.

The Independent Gt

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