Michael D Higgins accuses Musk of ‘incredible and dangerous narcissism’

6 May 2022

President Michael D Higgins at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists 2018 in Dublin’s RDS. Image: Chris Bellew/Fennells

The President questioned the idea of a multibillionaire ‘deciding what is appropriate for people to exchange by way of discourse’.

Irish President Michael D Higgins has called Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter a “manifestation of an incredible and dangerous narcissism”.

Speaking at the inaugural conference of the Dublin City University (DCU) Centre for Climate and Society yesterday (5 May), Higgins asked rhetorically if it is a “great success that a multibillionaire would be now deciding what is appropriate for people to exchange by way of discourse”.

“I think it can hardly be described as anything other than a manifestation of an incredible and dangerous narcissism,” he added, to applause from the audience.

Higgins did not mention Musk by name, but was discussing the important role of the media in terms of climate action.

Twitter announced that it was accepting Musk’s $44bn offer to buy the social media platform on 25 April.

The Tesla and SpaceX boss, who is the world’s richest person, is keen on making some big changes on the platform, including new features, enhanced monetisation, defeating spam bots, authenticating all humans and, perhaps most controversially, potentially relaxing content moderation.

Musk and free speech

Prof Jane Suiter, director of the DCU Institute for Future Media, Democracy and Society, told SiliconRepublic.com last week that Musk has an “evangelist view” of the internet as an “open space and democratising force” where free speech is sacrosanct.

“But what researchers and most other people have discovered over the last decade is that that promise fell through and that large parts of the internet are full of content that can be detrimental to people’s mental health,” said Suiter.

Musk tweeted in March asking his more than 80m followers (now 91m) if Twitter adheres to the policy that “free speech is essential to a functioning democracy”.

He added that if Twitter serves as the “de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy”, and asked his followers what should be done about this.

“With Musk’s free speech absolutism, it would allow people who want to make up anything to say whatever they want without presumably Twitter intervening,” added Suiter.

This week, filings revealed that Musk has secured a total of $7.1bn in commitments from 18 investors for his planned $44bn takeover of Twitter, including major backers such as Larry Ellison and Sequoia Capital.

Qatar, which has a poor track record for freedom of speech for its citizens, also extended $375m to the free speech advocate for his acquisition plans.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic