This past week, Elon Musk declared that he would allow Donald Trump back on Twitter, then wavered over his planned purchase of the social-media behemoth. As billionaire tech magnates dominate the public square and transform how we consume information, we’re bringing you a selection of pieces about social-media disrupters and their impact.
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In “Plugged In,” from 2009, Tad Friend profiles an earlier incarnation of Musk, when the Tesla CEO was primarily focused on pitching his vision for electric cars and colonizing Mars. In “Can Mark Zuckerberg Fix Facebook Before It Breaks Democracy?,” Evan Osnos writes about the social-media platform’s evolution (or devolution) from a networking site to one of the leading disseminators of extremist rhetoric and propaganda. In “Reddit and the Struggle to Detoxify the Internet,” Andrew Marantz examines the destructive impact of rampant online conspiracy theories and hate speech. Finally, in “What Is It About Peter Thiel?,” Anna Wiener considers the influence of the first outside investor in Facebook—who, after serving as one of Trump’s biggest donors in 2016, continues to make forays into Republican, recently backing two Trumpian Senate candidates, JD Vance, in Ohio, and Blake Masters, in Arizona. For Thiel, Wiener writes, “the processes of liberal democratic life are either an obstacle or a distraction. . . . What’s on offer is a fantasy of a future shaped purely by technology.”