A few years ago, when my sister was visiting me in Berlin, we decided to rent Segways to explore the site of the abandoned Tempelhof airport-turned-park. On arrival we were surprised to learn that we must first complete a 30-minute training session. The instructor, a boy of around 12, explained the theory. Then, one by one, we had to Segway our way around some orange cones. If all went well, we would then be issued with a licence allowing us to roam freely.
If you've ever wondered what total humiliation feels like, try knocking over cone after cone on a Segway in front of a child instructor and a group of bemused strangers.
I still got my licence. The youngster probably had no precedent for incompetence of the kind I displayed. But it was an empty victory. As the sun set beautifully over the old airport, I struggled to maintain control of the vehicle. Gliding past me with intuitive grace, my sister shouted instructions. But I was a hopeless case. To this day, I am grateful that I didn`t run into anyone.
The memory of this humbling experience returned to me recently as I considered the credentials of two men seeking to own influential social media platforms. The first is Elon Musk, who acquired Twitter for $44 billion dollars (€44.61 billion) on Friday. The second is Kanye West, now known as Ye, who wants to acquire Parler, a site popular with rightwing conservatives.
In most countries, if you want to buy a gun, you must meet a certain set of criteria. Here in Germany, these include the need to demonstrate "necessary reliability" and "personal aptitude."
Given the enormous power of social media to incite violence, including the Capitol Hill riots in January 2021, the same checks and balances must be demanded of site owners. A cursory glance at the history of both men finds them sorely lacking in necessary reliability and personal aptitude.
Let's look at Musk first. His Twitter profile reveals an erratic personality with a penchant for posting stock market-moving messages on a whim. From unsubstantiated claims that he was taking Tesla private (shares rose 6%) to the contention that his own company was overvalued (stock tumbled 10%), he has displayed anything but the necessary reliability to manage a social media site. Similarly, the drama surrounding Musk's will-he-won't-he Twitter purchase was also a world first, aptly summed up by the Financial Times as a unique corporate saga where the acquisition target is also the deal's battleground.
Musk's friend Kanye West/Ye's recent incendiary stunts and antisemitic rhetoric also show a gross failure of responsibility. Whether it was his promotion of WHITE LIVES MATTER t-shirts at Paris Fashion Week or his threatening posts against Jewish people, the rapper-turned-businessman clearly does not have the temperament needed to manage a high-stakes platform, particularly not one which was in widespread use as an organising tool for the attack on Capitol Hill in 2021. German sportswear giant Adidas was the latest company to realise this and ended connections with the controversial celebrity.
Photographs which have since emerged of individuals holding a banner bearing the message "Kanye is right about the Jews" while performing Nazi salutes over a Los Angeles freeway further reinforce the danger of social media sites ending up in the wrong hands.
Where would a Musk- and Ye-owned social media landscape leave us, you may ask? Well, if you'll excuse the segue, it would be the equivalent of a free-for-all at Tempelhof airport with me in charge of leasing the vehicles. There would be no barriers, no accepted code of conduct, no mechanism to prevent collisions. The person with the least aptitude and reliability would be in charge. In other words, it would be pure chaos, a crash waiting to happen.
Disclaimer: This article first appeared on DW and is published by a special syndication arrangement.