There’s a famous saying among those who discuss freedom of the press that’s so familiar it was quoted to me by several people I interviewed about Elon Musk’s move to take over Twitter.
The maxim, now embedded in media lore, is sometimes attributed to a quip by U.S. journalist and humourist H.L. Mencken whose writings in the first half of the 20th-century referred to media moguls of his own time.
“Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one,” goes a version of the quote, which in another one of its variants is credited to journalist A.J. Liebling.
Influence of the world’s richest man
Whoever coined it, the point of the quotation is that far from the model in which democracy is upheld by widely distributed local newspapers — once owned by opponents of the governing elite, like Canadian radical William Lyon Mackenzie — the free press and its later incarnations, radio and TV, have mostly fallen into the hands of the rich and powerful.
Musk’s move to take control of Twitter, which has yet to be finalized, has reignited controversy over the power that wealthy people have in influencing the democratic process through ownership of these global platforms.
The Tesla and SpaceX mogul is already the world’s richest person — and he’s helping to redefine the famous maxim about ownership and press freedom, but this time in the era of globalized social media.
Even among those who push for greater democratic control of media, the effect of Musk’s sway over such an influential platform as Twitter is widely disputed.
Some, like the American Civil Liberties Union, say the mogul’s influence may be benign or even positive. But others interviewed suggested the combination of Musk’s libertarian “frat boy” ethics and his Midas Touch for making money could make the divisive social media business model even more toxic.
“The idea of the extraordinarily rich, typically men, owning key media outlets has a very long history in Canada and internationally,” said James Turk, director of Canada’s Centre for Free Expression at Toronto Metropolitan University.
In the early 1900s, Lord Beaverbrook, a.k.a. Max Aitken, parlayed a Canadian business career into ownership of the newspaper with the world’s highest circulation, the Daily Express, and used his paper to spread his conservative views to the working class.
Affecting the public discourse
Turk points to the Thomson family, which still controls the Globe and Mail, as well as the Siftons, and many others, including Conrad Black, who founded the National Post. Internationally, there’s Rupert Murdoch who bought the Wall Street Journal and who created Fox News, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, owner of the Washington Post to mention just a few.
“They do it for a variety of reasons,” Turk said. “They want to influence the public discourse, they have their own views of the world.”
The influence of those who own social media giants is different from those who own print newspapers at least partly because of algorithms, the embedded software that decides what you see — a form of control not always obvious to people using Twitter, Facebook and their many competitors, Turk said.
WATCH | Elon Musk strikes a deal to acquire Twitter:
Unlike the printed pages of a newspaper where someone can choose which articles to read, the algorithm puts different stories or tweets in front of different people. While the algorithm is largely dictated by the user’s viewing history, it’s also informed by decisions made by the social media company itself. The specific ingredients that go into those formulas are a secret to users, something Musk says he will change.
For human rights lawyer Faisal Bhabha who teaches at Toronto’s Osgoode Hall law school, there is evidence that such social media algorithms can mean some perspectives just don’t get as much attention. He refers to a much-quoted case of Palestinian supermodel Bella Hadid who found that comments about Palestine did not go to all of her many social media followers.
Musk has said he will increase freedom of speech on Twitter, but Bhabha said the term freedom is complex and can mean different things to different people, with the recent Freedom Convoy a perfect example of those varied definitions.
The meaning of freedom
“I don’t know what Elon Musk means by freedom, but if he means no control whatsoever over content, I think most experts think that’s unrealistic,” said Bhabha.
Just this week, anti-hate groups suggested that social media platforms, including Twitter, need more — not less — supervision and control.
Musk has said he wants to run Twitter efficiently and not manipulate it.
That may be the case, but one has to ask why it is that so many of the rich and powerful buy control of media outlets, said Dwayne Winseck, a Carleton University professor conducting research on Canadian media concentration.
Are they in it for the money — or the influence? he asked.
“When you have owner-controlled companies, you don’t know,” Winseck said. “And so it makes it a very real prospect that this is all about political influence and not about business pursuits.”
Winseck said he’s worried about the growing power of what he calls “billionaire frat boys” spreading the kind of libertarian message that makes them richer and more powerful.
“When you get people like Musk or [Facebook investor] Peter Thiel, these rich billionaires who are all in for freedom but very critical of the extent to which democracy can constrain their own freedoms, I think we’ve got a problem.”
While such subtle influences are hard to put your finger on, one complaint about Musk’s purchase of Twitter is that he will turn the platform into a forum for even stronger views.
Carmen Celestini, who spends a lot of time reading outrageous tweets as part of a Simon Fraser University research project about the rise of Canadian conspiracy theories on social media — including QAnon — said there are already plenty of strong views there.
Not quitting Twitter
“If we put this into context, disinformation, extremism, exists on Twitter as it stands right now,” said Celestini, who monitors many different viewpoints using her various Twitter accounts. (She said she has no intention of abandoning Twitter.)
Celestini said that by celebrating his own version of freedom, she thinks Musk will appeal to a rising international wave of nationalism and populism in what online critics of Twitter have described as a hotbed of left-wing perspectives.
For Twitter to deserve public trust, it must be politically neutral, which effectively means upsetting the far right and the far left equally
Of course, because of the algorithm, people often see what they want to see. Celestini said that as Musk encourages “cleavages between left and right,” there is no reason to think the billionaire will lose money.
“The focus on Musk owning Twitter is missing the key issue,” said Turk, who noted that the business model behind social media is about gathering information from users so paying advertisers know exactly who they are talking to.
“They are able to extract that information from the rest of us by keeping our eyes on their site,” said Turk. “They know what attracts public attention is controversy, hyperbole, outrage — not complexity, contemplation or nuance.”
Even as governments try to tame the worst excesses of social media with rules and regulations, Turk said that audience-grabbing strategy is one that stretches back to the days of H.L. Mencken.
Accused killer's social media rife with violence – Winnipeg Free Press
The man accused of the grisly slaying of a woman in North Kildonan threatened to rip apart another man’s flesh with his teeth in a profanity-laced social media rant two weeks before he was charged.
The vitriolic outburst by accused killer Jeremy Anthony Michael Skibicki was sparked by the man’s comment about Skibicki’s military-style hat.
Skibicki, 35, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of 24-year-old Rebecca Contois, whose partial remains were found in a garbage bin behind an Edison Avenue apartment block on Monday. The charge of first-degree murder indicates the Crown believes there was pre-meditation to the homicide.
A source has told the Free Press there could be four additional victims. Police have acknowledged they are looking for other victims — officers are conducting a search of the Brady Road Landfill — but wouldn’t say more than that.
Winnipeg Police Service Const. Rob Carver said Thursday homicide detectives had not ruled out the possibility of more victims “due to the nature of the circumstances” of the investigation, but he wouldn’t elaborate.
A Free Press review of the accused’s social media accounts revealed posts about far-right politics, including references to the white genocide conspiracy theory as well as antisemitic content.
On May 8, just before 4:30 a.m., Skibicki posted the violent rant, claiming a man had threatened to shoot him “multiple times in the head and in the body” if Skibicki “came around again,” after they discussed his hat — social media photos show the accused wearing a grey, military-style cap.
“He claimed all Europeans are Nazis even if I don’t identify as a National Socialist,” the post reads. “Guess where I am headed again this morning?”
The post describes violent acts.
“When I see him I am going to beat the f—-ing sh— out of him and rip apart his flesh with my teeth if he so much as blinks at me wrong while he’s too close.
“I don’t need a weapon to kill, but I will certainly shoot him with his own gun or stab him with his own knife if I need to.”
The post claims Skibicki knows he will go to heaven.
“If this is the hill I die on, so be it. I will not recoil in shame of my race… this infidel better have a full clip and permission from God to end my life,” the post reads.
An arrest information obtained by the Free Press shows police believe Contois was killed on or around May 14.
The same information shows Skibicki has been charged with failing to comply with the conditions of a release order — specifically that he live at a West Broadway address.
On Thursday, Carver told reporters officers had executed a warrant on Skibicki’s residence in the area where Contois’s remains were found.
On Thursday afternoon, a police forensics truck was parked at the McKay Avenue four-plex where the accused lived, which is one block north of Edison Avenue.
On Friday, residents of the four-storey block in West Broadway, where Skibicki had been ordered to live, said they did not recognize him.
His suite has been vacant since January, a resident said.
Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.
Media Release – May 20, 2022 – Guelph Police – Guelph Police Service
Attempt break and enter
The Guelph Police Service is investigating after an attempted break and enter at a west-end business.
Early Thursday morning, two males arrived by vehicle at a business on Speedvale Avenue West. One of the suspects was caught on video using an angle grinder in an attempt to gain access to a storage unit, but the males fled when an alarm sounded.
A query of the licence plates, which were on an older two-tone Ford Escape, revealed they are registered to another vehicle.
The incident remains under investigation. Anyone with information is asked to call Constable Graeme Adams at 519-824-1212, ext. 7419, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, leave an anonymous message for Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS) or leave an anonymous tip online at www.csgw.tips.
Prohibited driver arrested
A Cambridge male banned from driving was arrested after he was caught behind the wheel in Guelph Thursday.
A Guelph Police Service officer was on patrol on Speedvale Avenue West just after 3 p.m. when he queried a licence plate and learned it was registered to a prohibited driver. A traffic stop was conducted and the owner of the vehicle confirmed to be the driver.
Investigation revealed the male is a prohibited driver as a result of a December, 2021, conviction for refusing to provide a breath sample. A 49-year-old Cambridge male is charged with driving while prohibited and driving while suspended. He will appear in a Guelph court July 5, 2022.
Male threatens staff, gets arrested
A Guelph male faces charges after threatening to “mace” employees of a local business Thursday afternoon.
Approximately 4:20 p.m. the male entered a business on Woodlawn Road West near Woolwich Street. Staff recognized him from a shoplifting incident earlier in the week and began to follow him. The male became agitated and threatened to “mace” the employees before reaching into a fanny pack he was wearing and removing something.
Staff retreated and called police, who located the male in the area of the business. He was not found to be carrying any weapons.
A 40-year-old Guelph male is charged with two counts of uttering threats and breaching probation. He was held for a bail hearing Friday.
Stunt driving charge laid
A Guelph male was taken off the road after he was caught Thursday driving more than twice the speed limit.
A Guelph Police Service Traffic Unit officer was patrolling just before 1 p.m. in the area of Victoria Road South and College Avenue West when he observed a vehicle travelling at a high rate of speed. The vehicle was clocked at 110 km/h in a posted 50 km/h zone.
A 21-year-old Guelph male is charged with stunt driving and speeding. His driver’s licence was immediately suspended for 30 days and his vehicle impounded for 15 days.
Total calls for service in the last 24 hours – 246
Brock Media Clips for Friday, May 20 – The Brock News – Brock University
Here’s a look at some of the media attention Brock University received recently.
Royal Canadian Tour continues, Indigenous groups await formal monarchy apology: Assistant Professor of Education Stanley ‘Bobby’ Henry spoke to CHCH about statements from Prince Charles that discussed residential schools in Canada and the need for reconciliation.
Brock prepares future nurses for challenges in the field: Department of Nursing Chair Karyn Taplay and Nursing student Sierra Smith spoke to Newstalk 610 CKTB about the growth of Brock’s Nursing program, as well as what it’s like to pursue a career in nursing. Taplay also discussed the Nursing program’s expanding enrolment in a St. Catharines Standard article.
Who are union members supporting in this election?: Professor of Labour Studies Larry Savage spoke to CBC’s Ontario Today program about the decision of a construction union to endorse the Progressive Conservatives in Ontario’s upcoming provincial election.
As several Canadian cities loosen public drinking laws, Toronto rejects proposal again: Professor of Health Sciences Dan Malleck spoke to The Globe and Mail about current conversations around alcohol consumption and their relationship to temperance movement of the 19th and 20th centuries. Malleck also spoke to Nunatsiaq News about Nunavut’s system of alcohol regulation.
“We want to make curling cool” — Rolling the dice on the Roaring Game: Assistant Professor of Sport Management Michael Naraine spoke to Yahoo!Sports about the potential for legal sports gambling to bring a new audience to the sport of curling.
If you know of an appearance or story about a Brock faculty member, student, athlete or alumni, please drop us a line with a link to the story at email@example.com
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