Elon Le Fou*
There is no doubt that Elon Musk is a man of great intellect. Born in Pretoria, South Africa, he built his goals based on a fierce, ambitious spirit, selling his first software, a self-made computer game,at the age of 12. After 38 years, that spirit has only grown bigger, and it is as big as a man can feed it: now, as CEO of Tesla, founder of PayPal, Space X, and The Boring Company, he has become the wealthiest man on Earth, surpassing Bernard Arnault (from LVMH, the world's largest luxury goods company) and Jeff Bezos (Amazon) just a few months ago.
However, his positive accomplishments, (contributing to the transition of renewable energies, entrepreneurship, employment) his money, business, and ideas come with strings attached: his undeniably influential position has allowed him to become a controversial stakeholder in major world issues, such as climate change, renewable energies, and new economical, technological paths for humankind.
He is aware of that. In fact, he seems rather eager to start raising his voice in political and geopolitical discourses, as he openly expresses himself on Twitter and in several interviews, but his ideas have been endlessly questioned and discredited, seen as "paradoxical and random" (Peters, 2022) and even "crazy" – with fair reason.
A man that "flirts" with power politics
With more than 110 million followers on Twitter, Elon Musk acknowledges and trusts –maybe a little too much– his political ideas and expresses them blatantly despite the criticism he has received for not being an expert on those matters.
He calls himself a moderate libertarian, but he seems mostly aligned with central-right-wing ideas(Palmer, 2022).
Nonetheless, it has been noted that the man acts out strategically, which is not a surprise if we think of him as someone who is used to seizing opportunities and going beyond. In 2016, For example, despite previously saying that he wouldn’t like Donald Trump as the next president of the U.S, he joined his Advisor Council when he won the elections, and the public dialogue between them was rather friendly.
A year later, Musk quit the council because the president abandoned the Paris agreement. Since then, his relationship with Trump became somewhat rocky (but not enough to support Trump's ban from Twitter, arguing that platforms should not cut freedom of speech).
A messenger… for who?
More recently, his tweets regarding "a Peace Proposal for the Ukraine War" have raised speculations about his future interests again: he posted a poll to see to what extent people agreed with it: he suggested a "redo" of the elections in annexed regions, with United Nations as an observer/moderator so that the territories could decide their own will. He also suggested formalizing Crimea as a part of Russia, expecting Ukraine to be neutral about it because “that's how things were since 1783, until Khrushchev's mistake." So, it seems that, for him, Ukraine's sovereignty was just born from someone's mistake, which implicitly undermines the country's legitimacy and right to claim it.
These are just the kind of things that keep putting him in a weird, uncomfortable, and even unpleasant spotlight through the eyes of public opinion. In fact, these tweets, accompanied by some rumors about Musk being in contact with the Kremlin, occasioned some experts like Fiona Hill - former official at the U.S. National Security Council specializing in Russian and European affairs - to catalog him as the new messenger for Vladimir Putin. From her point of view, since the latter is investing, by all means, to influence the West to unbalance the current world order, it is clear he would try to use such a prominent figure to spread Russia's will and push to end the conflict on their own terms.
Putin is known for using public figures to do that for him. As Hill said (Reynolds, 2022), “Putin plays the egos of big men, gives them a sense that they can play a role. But in reality, they’re just direct transmitters of [his] messages”.
On the other side, Elon Musk has denied the rumors and declared his support for Ukraine, firmly. So, a thousand questions arise: what is the role of Elon Musk in the conflict? Is he really one of Putin’s messengers or is he playing a strategy on his own? He just acquired Twitter, the platform on which he has mostly built his public image, and he began his Twitter ownership with firings and declaring the 'bird is freed'
What will this mean for freedom of speech?
As the debate deepens, the answers become more complex and blurrier, but it would be naive not to keep him in sight. After all, he stands on firm soil: he already has a profit that allows his company to launch rockets, an audience that admires him, and the channels to deliver his ideas. But what will his real message be?
Only time will make us see his true colors, but it would be definitely hasty to discard his real interest in the political field.
* By Angelica Lara