Excerpts from a newly released Elon Musk biography seem to confirm his God complex. Apparently, Musk thought providing Ukraine with Starlink communication satellites gave him the power to dictate military strategies. Last September, we have learned, Musk refused to activate the satellites over Sevastopol, Crimea, just prior to a crucial planned attack against the Russian navy.
Despite his lack of military training or experience, and ignoring pleas from Ukrainian generals, Musk declared that Ukraine’s planned mission and strategy was “going too far and inviting strategic defeat.” Confident in his own rectitude, Musk unilaterally thwarted Ukraine’s mission, allowing Russia’s fleet to then fire Kalibr missiles at Ukrainian cities.
Musk has also argued on social media, where he has 150 million fawning fanboys hanging on his every word, that Kyiv should give up territory Moscow seized in 2014 and drop any bid to join NATO, well-honed strategies of that military alliance be damned, leading a top advisor to Zelensky to lament Musk’s “cocktail of ignorance and big ego.”
Is it a God complex? Or just immaturity?
Training the same caliber of ignorance and arrogance onto Twitter, his newest toy, Musk frequently brags that he has “freed the bird,” meaning, cut online content moderation. In so doing, Musk has handed dangerous antisemites, white nationalists and fascists a megaphone. Instead of accepting the predictable market reaction, Musk is now blaming the Anti-Defamation League - not the hate speech he’s protecting - for losing approximately half of his advertising revenue.
Over the past week, X/Twitter was awash in an explosion of vile antisemitic tropes as #BanTheADL trended among white nationalists and their abettors. Musk fed the controversy by blaming the Anti-Defamation League for loss of advertising revenue, suggesting the organization had scared advertisers away from the platform.
Musk also tweeted that X had no choice but to sue the ADL, to “clear our platform’s name on the matter of anti-Semitism,” after he amplified an antisemitic call to ban the ADL from X entirely. Talk about blaming the victim.
Free market forces, not censorship or the ADL, cost X advertisers
Musk styles himself grandly but naively as a “free speech absolutist,” despite the fact that free speech protections have never applied to privately-run platforms like Twitter. The First Amendment prohibits the government from abridging free expression, not private purveyors of media content like X who must sell adverts to stay afloat.
If private platforms fail to police hate speech, or worse, cause it to increase dramatically, as Musk has done, they will struggle to monetize their platforms through advertisements. No company selling coffee, shoes, or dating services wants to be associated with online hatred, it’s bad for brand image.
It doesn’t take an economist to understand that whenever free speech and free markets collide, whoever is paying the rent will dictate the terms of coexistence. If advertisers won’t pay to have their brand appear on the same platform parading anti-Semitism, white supremacy, or Christian Nationalism, that’s not censorship. It’s the free market.
A free marketplace of ideas will drown in hate if not moderated
Musk’s delusions of “free speech absolutism” led him to terminate key employees engaged in content safety, allowing online hatred to flourish, predictably setting the company up to lose advertisers. That he is now attempting to blame the ADL for X’s loss in revenue, instead of his own poor management decisions, is a Trumpian strongman finger-point exercise in projection. It also trots out an old and tired antisemitic trope: that Jews control the hidden levers of commerce.
Promoting free speech while protecting it requires a deft balancing act and high emotional intelligence. Musk lacks the maturity required to manage a public square, and lacks comprehension of the dangers of extremism, to say nothing of world history.
If Musk wants to run his private town square into the ground and make it a cesspool of hate, that’s his prerogative. But he should not blame the victim(s) when his advertisers run, clutching their hair, into the night.
Sabrina Haake is a 25-year litigator specializing in 1st and 14th Amendment defense. Her columns appear in OutSFL, Chicago Tribune, Salon, State Affairs, and Howey Politics. She and her wife split their time between South Florida and Chicago. Follow her on substack.