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This article was published on July 6, 2018

A tale of two Elons: Why this superhero should get banned from Twitter (but won’t)

A tale of two Elons: Why this superhero should get banned from Twitter (but won’t)
Tristan Greene
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Tristan Greene

Editor, Neural by TNW

Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him

Elon Musk’s Twitter presence has become a meditation on good and evil. On one hand he’s benevolent and accessible — anyone can chat the Tesla CEO up and he’s often willing to offer his aid and influence to help others. But on the other hand he’s a vindictive bully who singles out individuals and publicly berates them with no regard for the consequences of his actions — something others have been banned for.

He’s one of the most quixotic people of our time. In today’s headlines he’s being lauded for mobilizing a team of engineers to aid in the rescue of a boys soccer team trapped in a cave in Thailand while simultaneously being denigrated for harassing a journalist on Twitter. He deserves praise for the former. A Thai Navy Seal lost his life trying to help the trapped children, and the longer the situation persists the higher the likelihood more lives could be lost.

Musk is in a unique position to help, not only is he a bonafide genius and a world-class engineer, but he also owns The Boring Company and Tesla. His teams will be well-versed in the unique challenges involved in working underground, and they’ll likely bring technology superior to anything currently on the scene.

And if it weren’t for Twitter, perhaps none of it would have happened. A person tweeting from an unverified account asked Musk to help and received a placid response at first:

But, it was apparent that Musk spent a significant amount of time considering the prospects, and it wasn’t long before news broke all over that he was sending a crack team to help.

Ladies and gentlemen, that’s Elon Musk. Anyone who follows tech knows that he’s a problem solver who likely wouldn’t back down from any engineering challenge. I’d go so far as to opine that Musk isn’t the slightest bit interested in the positive publicity associated with helping the trapped kids, but instead he genuinely wants to help because he’s a decent person.

He’s also an asshole who abuses the power and privilege that come with having billions of dollars and tens of millions of social media followers, many of which can be frenzied into a mob to attack his detractors. He took some time on Thursday to engage in a focused effort to publicly attack and discredit a journalist – part of his recent crusade against the mainstream media in the wake of negative Tesla coverage.

For this targeted harassment of a single journalist, who did nothing other than have the audacity of publishing a story that was negative about Tesla, he should be kicked off of the platform just like Milo Yiannopoulis was.

The journalist he’s targeting, Business Insider’s Linette Lopez, interviewed disgruntled former Tesla employees and financial experts who think poorly of Tesla, and published articles that weren’t friendly to the company.

In response to her coverage, Musk accused her of paying sources and insider trading:

Both claims are ridiculous, and Felix Salmon does a great job of debunking them in his article on Slate, but the fact of the matter is that many of Musk’s followers don’t care whether Lopez did anything wrong or not.

Musk, rather than send his grievances to Business Insider – its US editor in chief offered to have a dialogue with him, as did the global editor – decided to unleash his vitriol in a public castigation of Lopez. And a mob comprised of his most zealous followers followed suit.

And, before any of Musk’s supporters take umbrage to being lumped into a group referred to as a ‘mob’ by a card-carrying member of the mainstream media, allow me to be perfectly clear: most of Elon’s fans are probably decent people. But, enough of them are assholes that he should absolutely know what’s going to happen when he goes after someone publicly. After all, it’s happened before.

Elon Musk knows that the status that comes with his position, and the power that comes with his money and celebrity status, are weapons. For all the heroism he displays as a paragon of technology who, apparently, wants to make the world a better place, he’s little more than a bully on Twitter.

Sadly, we need all the heroes we can get, even if they’re borderline villains like Musk. Because, even though his abuse of power reminds us of certain politicians at the top, Musk, unlike them, is actually doing something to help those poor kids in Thailand. The White House remains silent on the subject.

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