Musk v Zuckerberg cage fight is diversion from pending regulation

The much heralded “cage fight” between Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk is a mediatic diversionary manoeuvre by two information chaos heavyweights, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF). In RSF’s view, the proposed Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) combat, that the two billionaires have been publicly discussing since the end of June, is above all a metaphor for a digital capitalism that is so little regulated, that it is free to create a gratuitous spectacle, rather that concentrate on extinguishing the information conflagration it has set off all over the world.

MMA is a full-contact combat sport that can be very violent. Meta-owner Zuckerberg, who has been in direct competition with Musk’s social media X (the former Twitter) ever since launching Threads in July, seems to want an MMA fight in order to magnify the rivalry between their almost identical products. The date proposed, 26 August, has yet to be accepted by Musk, much to the annoyance of Zuckerberg, who is clearly very serious in his desire for a scrap.

“Let’s hope that an exchange of blows will knock some sense into them and persuade them to serve the general interest. Zuckerberg has proposed a date that is quite symbolic, the day after the Digital Services Act or DSA, the European Union’s proposed legislation for very big platforms, is due to take effect. Musk’s X will also be affected. All of their energies, and all the attention of commentators, should be focused on compliance with this ambitious digital regulation project.”

Vincent Berthier

Head of RSF’s Tech Desk

Since the announcement, the fight now seems hypothetical. But the diversion has clearly succeeded. The media spotlights are turned on Threads and on X. Musk announced on X that the cage fight – in which almost every kind of blow is permitted – will be livestreamed. It will be a fight in which the law of the strongest looms as large as the information vision of its two protagonists is small, a narrow space where pluralism and peaceful debate will have no place as long as this polarisation prevails.

Nonetheless, Musk and Zuckerberg have much to do to restore some peace and trust in their respective ranks. Musk, in particular, turned his back on the 2022 Strengthened Code of Practice on Disinformation, which will become the DSA's code of conduct on disinformation. Twitter was one of the early signatories, but X has reneged on the undertakings that were given in the fight against disinformation. Meanwhile, Threads is not yet available in Europe, but Meta has banned the Canadian media from Facebook and Instagram, in reaction to the passage of a law forcing it to reimburse them for the media content it uses, starting a showdown with the Canadian government.

When called on to flex their muscles on social media, Zuckerberg and Musk rose to the occasion. It would be unfortunate if the two rivals failed to rise to the occasion when required to act responsibly and make their platforms less harmful for democratic debate.

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Updated on 15.08.2023