Bill Ackman, the billionaire hedge fund manager, is an annoyingly persistent contrarian.
Not content with just helping to remove the president of Harvard University, Claudine Gay, Accused of plagiarism and making public statements that he disapproved of, Ackman has been using his social media presence (which includes his 1.2 million followers on X) to campaign for the ouster of Sally Kornbluth as president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
It doesn't matter if you think he's a billionaire braggart or a brave iconoclast,
Ackman is part of a paradigm shift on social networks, where the rich are increasingly able to convert financial capital into social capital.
He is by no means the first nor the most scandalous beneficiary of this unfortunate reality: that distinction probably belongs to his fellow billionaires. Donald Trump y Elon Muskwho, like Ackman, also discovered that social media platforms, unlimited and unfiltered, are heaven for those with unconventional views and God complexes.
But why do rich people like Ackman make such a fuss on X, publishing one long rant after another?
His passion for the platform, especially since Musk bought it, suggests he wants to enlist someone other than other wealthy Harvard and MIT donors in his battles.
You want to reach the public, an audience that does not enjoy of the same freedoms as him on social networks.
Pierre Bourdieu, The great French academic of great social distinction postulated that individuals could convert money into various types of social position and vice versa, but that the conversion would not be perfect.
If you think of this conversion as a type of exchange rate, what is happening today is that the wealthy are taking advantage of one of the most favorable opportunities ever offered to convert their wealth in buzz and status on social networks and then in enormous power and social influence.
I think this happens for two reasons: first, I increasingly accept a theory of world of social networks known as “preferential attachment” – The tendency of the rich to get richer applies not only to money, but also to the ability of the well-connected to attract more attention.
Second, I believe that enormous wealth uniquely insulates the rich from the consequences of their speeches.
Pure acceleration, no brakes.
The Supreme Court's decision on the case Citizens United 2010— which declared political spending to be a protected class of free speech — began as a legal ruling, but has slowly become a cultural norm as well, as an increasing number of media outlets , among them
Furthermore, the rich are also more insulated from the consequences of their speeches.
Self-employed billionaires like Ackman, Musk, and Trump can say whatever they want on social media without fear of economic or political repercussions, because their extreme wealth protects them.
Elon Musk, example and factotum of this phenomenon. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
They can't be fired, and even if they could, it wouldn't impact their lifestyles one bit.
This is a privilege that only a few Americans enjoy, despite the high frequency with which our society likes to argue that we all have the same “freedom of expression”.
That simply it is no longer trueif it ever was.
A few wrong words, uttered in public, can get you fired from your job, without having many resources to avoid it, or get “cancel”, or both, or worse.
These were the cases of Gay from Harvard; or Elizabeth Magill of the University of Pennsylvania, who also recently resigned as president after coming under fire for her comments to Congress about the antisemitism on campus (as were Gay and Kornbluth) and for other alleged missteps; o Yao Yue, the Twitter employee whom Musk fired for publicly criticizing his order “Back at the office”.
Ackman, an activist investor known on Wall Street for relentlessly and publicly creating agitation to get the results he wants, recognizes the unique position he finds himself in.
In a January 12 interview with CNBC, Ackman admitted:
“If you say something that offends someone, you can lose your job. You can be excluded. “They can cancel you.”
Then he added: “I'm not afraid. “I’m not afraid of being canceled, I’m not afraid of losing my job, and financial independence gives me the resources to speak up.”
It is considered a “repairman” and sees no difference between his activist campaigns to “repair” a company and an activist campaign to “repair” a university.
“It's all the same,” he said.
He sees no irony in the fact that Gay, Magill, and Kornbluth do not have similar privilege.
Ackman has sparked another major controversy in X in defending his wife, a former MIT professor, against accusations of plagiarism laid out in a series of Business Insider articles.
When only billionaires, in practice, can afford to speak freely without consequences, what does freedom of speech really mean?
There is a fashion among the super rich like Ackman, Musk y Trump of misinterpreting the First Amendment as permission to support their particular vision of how public discourse should function.
Although the amendment is a negative liberty—individuals and businesses can limit speech any way they want, but the government is largely prohibited from restricting it for them—the rich like to present the First Amendment as a recommendation that There are no restrictions for people who want to express themselves, regardless of the content of that speech.
Since there is every time fewer security barriers about what can be shared on these social media platforms, it is no surprise that the rich are benefiting disproportionately.
This is a strategy designed to make power, not access, the primary determinant of who can participate in free speech.
On platforms like crazy definition of freedom of expressionpeople who are harassed from speaking out are not thought to be a loss to public discourse, but rather appropriately restrained harassers.
This reasoning is unacceptable.
Ackman confuses his area of expertise—activist investing—with his private opinions, such as who should be the presidents of Harvard and MIT and whether his wife is a legitimate target for plagiarism accusations.
The current climate provides you with both the financial means and the freedom from any consequences to inject your private opinions into the public sphere.
On some level, that's how it should be.
But when those of us without Ackman's megaphone or wealth can't dare respond to him—or his kind—without fear of facing significant retaliation, we risk entering a world where free speech is another luxury. more than only the rich can afford.
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