Without publicly saying a word, Apple has been dragged into a slugfest with the world’s richest man, Elon Musk. Twitter’s new chief has made it patently clear that the social media site will play by his rules since his $44 billion takeover – blue tick subscriptions, free speech absolutism and Twitter’s internal work culture – and has so far managed to somewhat maintain his vision.
War with Apple is immeasurably different. Far more imposing than anyone he’s taken on to date, Apple is worth more than 10x Musk, and it’s not just financial supremacy that gives the tech giant the upper hand. Their influence on the modern Western world is more extensive than most governments. With so much of the globe running on Apple devices, they can play judge, jury and executioner, the ultimate arbiter of our murky internet world. An internet world that increasingly shapes the real world, and very much includes Twitter.
This is a battle for the future of civilization. If free speech is lost even in America, tyranny is all that lies ahead.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 29, 2022
Pinning Apple as a digital monopoly is easy enough for Musk. Dealing with the consequences will be tougher. While removing Twitter from the App Store would be a major blow to Apple itself, it would be even more catastrophic, perhaps even fatal, for the Twittersphere. Musk has just invested an astronomical amount of money into acquiring the site. No matter how rich, he’s got lenders and donors, and even he can’t write off $44 billion without consequence.
Crucial in understanding how Musk might prove victorious is recognising his desire to be seen as a billionaire of the people. A blatant misnomer, this belief nonetheless both partly explains Musk choosing conflict with Apple while also revealing his singular, if slim, chance of prevailing.
Apple should publish all censorship actions it has taken that affect its customers
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 28, 2022
In continuing to try to convince people he’s a regular, laid-back internet dude (that drinks too much diet coke and likes video game weapons), Musk will conversely brand Apple as trillionaires of the elite, immoral and exploitative, concerned exclusively with pluses and minuses, an organisation so vast and wealthy that they are willing to censor the masses to continue to milk them for all their worth.
It’s rather dystopian and not entirely far-fetched. The original advert for the Apple Macintosh brilliantly used George Orwell’s world of 1984 to sell their computers, but have they become the establishment they once threatened to break?
Bear with me for a second while I make an admittedly exaggerated analogy. Steve Jobs is Big Brother, the mystical, enigmatic founding father, a creature of vaguely recent history whose presence will live on forever. Apple is the Inner Party, their eyes and ears everywhere, their own App Store gatekeeping the information that can and cannot be accessed, their own wallet allowing us to spend our money. We, the western masses, are the Outer Party, the pious believers, serving the party by simply existing in a ‘developed world’ in which Apple devices are now ubiquitous. This leaves just the proles – the invisible people in invisible countries labouring in invisible factories for mere pennies; people we know exist but prefer to pretend don’t, doublethink our simultaneous outrage and complicity in their exploitation.
This Apple-is-evil version of events leaves Elon Musk as something of an Emmanuel Goldstein, a title he would love to wear but is fundamentally inaccurate. Apple and Musk are birds of a feather. There is no such thing as a billionaire of the people. There is no such thing as free speech absolutism. There was no Emmanuel Goldstein.
So while Musk’s chances of defeating Apple on free speech don’t depend on his word being the truth, nor even the direction of Apple’s moral compass, they do depend on how The Musk can spin the situation, presumably on Twitter.
If Musk can’t establish a battle on these grounds, by the time the real, legal fighting starts, he won’t have a chance.