After weeks of back and forth between Twitter and Elon Musk, the world’s richest man can now call himself the owner of the social media platform, as a privately owned company. While large scale mergers and agreements have been struck between social media companies in the past (think Facebook acquiring Instagram), this is the first time a social media giant has been bought out by an individual – the Twitter board of directors accepting Musk’s offer of $44 billion USD.
Extremely active on Twitter himself, Musk is one of the platform’s most influential users, boasting 84 million followers. The billionaire however is known for being erratic and divisive, from posting stolen memes to deliberately manipulating the value of his bitcoin through pointed tweets. Under the ownership of Musk, there are thought to be large scale changes to the Twitter landscape.
Proposed plans for Twitter
Following the announcement, Musk expressed proposed changes to the company and functionality of the platform. A self proclaimed “free-speech” absolutist, the Tesla CEO made clear his belief Twitter was not living up to its potential as “digital town square”, allowing for a diversity of opinions and perspectives.
In a statement released after the purchase announcement he explains: “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”
Like most other social platforms, Twitter has strict guidelines that restrict content deemed harassment, bullying or misinformation in order to protect users. As mentioned at a TED conference earlier in the year, Musk is proposing a relaxation of these restrictions. “If it’s a grey area, let the tweet exist,” he said during an interview.
Additionally, Musk announced proposed plans for the functionality of the platform, including the introduction of an “edit” button for published tweets, making the Twitter algorithm open source, “defeating” spam bots, and “authenticating all humans.”
Experts have condemned both the relaxation of moderation and the idea of an edit button for past tweets. From the potential for increased trolling and bullying online, protected under the guise of “free speech” to the edit button compromising the validity of past tweets and changing the concept of “truth” on the platform.
Musk’s history on Twitter
Known for subscribing to the “red-pill” ideology amongst other controversial theories, Musk’s use of Twitter is infamous for being erratic and divisive.
From stolen memes to Tesla and SpaceX promotion, to commentary on the stock and crypto markets, his tweets have often landed him in hot water. A 2019 example: Musk made accusations about British rescuer, Vernon Unsworth, who was involved in Tham Luang cave rescue, offhandedly insinuating he was a paedophile, when criticised about his proposed solution to build a mini-submarine. Musk was later sued by Unsworth for defamation.
Similarly, Musk has been known to use Twitter to manipulate both the crypto and stock markets. A loud supporter of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, Musk will often tweet about his favourite “Dogecoin”, artificially inflating the value of his share. While doing this for cryptocurrencies is not illegal, Musk has used the same technique to increase the value of Tesla, an electric vehicle company of which he is chairman of the board of directors and majority shareholder. Such behaviour has led Musk to be investigated by the US Securities and Exchange commission for potentially violating insider-trading rules.
Since news broke of Musk’s latest venture, reactions have been loud and divisive. Positive reactions have primarily been from Musk’s supporters – many of whom are celebrating the promise of no more spam accounts and are excited by Musk’s adjusted definition of free speech. A majority of users, however, are concerned about the future of the platform, many criticising Musk’s potential plans – as well as expressing concern about the expense of the venture, namely offering alternative projects where the money would have been better spent. Many have pointed out that in October 2021, Musk responded to a tweet that suggested he could “solve world hunger” with only 2% of his wealth. Musk challenged the United Nations to provide him with a solution for world hunger. The United Nations delivered, sharing a detailed plan with a proposed cost of $6.6 billion, which Musk has yet to action.
Another concern, given many of Musk’s supporters lean right politically, is whether Trump will be allowed to rejoin the platform. Trump was banned indefinitely on Twitter following the Capitol Riots in January 2021, Twitter citing the former president’s promotion of violence. However, in a recent interview Trump has confirmed he will not be returning to Twitter, instead choosing to support his own social media venture, Truth Social.
While the deal between Musk and Twitter will not be finalised until later in the year, the future of the platform is up in the air as users wait to see if Musk will deliver on his promises of change.