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What Does Elon Musk Want With Twitter?

elon twitter

Elon Musk has made headlines for yet another completely unhinged public act. No, he’s not bribing another teenager or launching himself into space (although he is comparing Bill Gates to a trans man online).

This time, Musk successfully launched an unsolicited take over of the social media site Twitter, offering USD $44 billion for the site on April 14. On April 25, the board of Twitter officially accepted the offer. The company will now be privately owned, with Musk serving as Chief Executive.

Although the deal is still being worked out, it is expected to come into effect in the next few weeks as Musk announced key shake ups to the business.

On Twitter, he has said that “work ethic expectations would be extreme, but much less than I demand of myself.”

Musk — the world’s richest man and founder of Paypal, Tesla, and Space X — managed to acquire the company after publicly revealing that he had quietly purchased USD $3 billion Twitter stock. This made him the largest shareholder, with 9.1% of the publicly-traded company. Vanguard Group, another large shareholder of Twitter, quickly moved to buy up more stock, bringing themselves to 10.3% ownership and sidelining Musk.

Initially hostile to the move, Twitter’s board of directors tried to mitigate Musk’s actions by offering him a board position, which he rejected. They also tried to block his ownership of the company, but have since relented and granted Musk his wish.

The whole thing has been pretty chaotic, so here’s what you need to know about the buyout and why Musk really wants Twitter.

Why Does Elon Musk Want Twitter?

First and foremost, Musk is not trying to make money here. He offered USD $44 billion for a company with a USD $37 billion market cap. This is USD $54.20 per share, about 38% more than what he paid for his stock in the company before it was revealed that he had bought a fair chunk of it.

We know from his tweets and his SEC filing that Musk is attempting not to profit from Twitter here, but rather, to ‘improve’ it as a service.

Musk has long been a defender of ‘free speech’ — or, at least, his own interpretation of the idea. He has previously posted Twitter poll questions to his followers that aim to bring attention to Twitter’s policies for suspending accounts as well as their practice of banning or restricting users for the content of their tweets.

Recently, he tweeted statistics showing the polarisation of trust in media companies in the US, appearing to be concerned that left-wing and right-wing voters have almost no publications in common that they trust.

In his takeover offer, Musk wrote: “I invested in Twitter as I believe in its potential to be the platform for free speech around the globe, and I believe free speech is a societal imperative for a functioning democracy.

He continued: “However, since making my investment I now realise the company will neither thrive nor serve this societal imperative in its current form. Twitter needs to be transformed as a private company.

“As a result, I am offering to buy 100% of Twitter… Twitter has extraordinary potential. I will unlock it”.

Musk, therefore, intends to make Twitter — which has been a publicly-traded company since 2013 — private once again as he revamps its offerings.

This would mean adding an edit button to tweets, making its algorithm open-source, reducing the level of moderation on the platform, and increasing the requirements for which a tweet can be taken down.

In a recent TED interview, Musk explained his decision further by saying that “Twitter has become the de facto town square”.

“It’s really important that people have the reality and the perception that they are able to speak freely, within the bounds of the law,” her said.

Although Musk has previously said that owning Twitter would be “a nightmare” and something that he wouldn’t want to do, he argued that it’s a space “important to the function of democracy.”

“The civilisation risk is decreased the more we can increase the trust of Twitter as a public platform.”

Now that he owns the company, his changes to the Twitter space are likely to be implemented over the coming months. What kind of impact this will have on the service is yet to be seen, however both Twitter users and its employees are apprehensive.

Why Did Twitter Let Musk Take Over?

Pretty much as soon as Musk revealed his plans to take over the company, the Twitter board went into a state of defence.

While initially offering him a position on the board looked like a friendly gesture, the position came with an enforced limit of a maximum 14% stake in the company. This was an attempt to limit his influence over Twitter.

Musk at first accepted the offer, then rejected it, saying that he wanted all or nothing — and would sell his shares if he didn’t get his way. Doing so would have crashed the Twitter stock price, which rose considerably since his first announcement of share ownership.

Employees too expressed concerns about what working at a Musk-owned Twitter might be like, as the billionaire is not known for his pro-labour philosophy.

Twitter then announced it would pursue a “poison pill” strategy to block Musk’s takeover. The plan would have given existing shareholders access to substantially discounted stock in order to dilute the holdings of newcomers. It’s not a commonly used strategy in the world of finance but it would have made it very difficult for Musk to take over.

The contingency plan was obviously not put into effect, with the board announcing their acceptance of his offer some two weeks after it was made.

Twitter’s Reaction to Musk’s Buyout

Initially, there was speculation over whether or not Musk was serious about his offer, really had plans for the site, or was simply playing the kind of bizarre games rich people like to play when it comes to lavish purchases. People also wondered if he was simply trying to stop people making fun of him on the site.

Musk was already being investigated for possible insider trading because of his actions on Twitter and the current buyout could see further legal ramifications.

On the site itself, there seems to be a trend of people deleting their accounts, or at least joking about doing so. This is being spurred on by right-wing types encouraging ‘liberals’ to jump ship and abandon the platform.

The main fear here is that Musk will encourage — or, at least, not stop — the spreading of more radical viewpoints on the site. Twitter has at least been implicated in playing a role in the January 6 uprising in the US, which saw the Capitol Building being stormed by supporters of Donald Trump. Trump was banned from Twitter during the uprising.

Another big concern is simply the fact that the world’s wealthiest person buying one of the largest social media sites on the planet, in an effort to influence the content shared on it, seems like a free speech issue in itself. Twitter has over 200 million users and is considered by some a public space in which all viewpoints can be shared. Of course, this comes with its own challenges of how far that free speech philosophy should extend. Someone has to make decisions over what can and can’t be shared, and people are wary that Musk will have much more of a say over those decisions. This is especially true as Twitter has already cultivated a reputation of allowing far-right political views to run rampant on the site.

And, of course, there’s the inevitable trolling, which everyone seems to be joining in on. One such example is the return of ‘Italian Elon’. Musk has previously been ridiculed by fake accounts adopting ‘ethnic’ personas of him, the most famous of these being ‘Italian Elon Musk,’ who wrote things like “I send a the calzone into space!! I don’t pay a the taxes!! Ohhh!!”. Many of these accounts — and there were probably hundreds, including French Elon and Irish Elon — were banned for imitating the billionaire, however that hasn’t stopped a resurgence of them now that Musk has bought their platform.

Engaging in a bit of trolling himself, fellow billionaire and rocket obsessive Jeff Bezos asked on Twitter whether Tesla’s desire to appease the Chinese government — China is the second-largest market for the electric vehicles after the US — could see the authoritarian regime regain some influence over the social media app.

Employees of the company appear to be in a state of confusion and despair over the buyout, with some questioning whether or not their jobs will be secure. Others, however, seem optimistic that Twitter being a private company will mean they don’t have to act completely in the interest of shareholders. They have also expressed excitement over removing fake accounts and ‘bots’ from the site, many of which have been detrimental to its running.

For his part, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal has said that there are no layoffs planned “at this time,” but that he doesn’t know exactly what direction the company will take now that Musk has ownership of the business.

Free Speech?

Increasingly, the bid to takeover Twitter appears to be an explicitly political move — it always was, but we now have a bit more insight into just what kind of politics Musk is pursuing here.

He had previously stated that “for Twitter to deserve public trust, it must be politically neutral, which effectively means upsetting the far right and the far left equally.”

While this may be a solid ideal to aim for, it appears Musk is much more comfortable with those on the far right than he is with those on the far left (this couldn’t have anything to do with left-leaning policies of taxes on big business owners, could it?). Far-right Republican Senator Lauren Boebert tweeted enthusiastically on Monday that Musk “now literally owns the libs” while Musk himself wrote that “the far left hates everyone, themselves included!”

The biggest example of where exactly Musk stands comes with his announcement that he would reverse the lifetime ban on Donald Trump and welcome him back to the platform.

Speaking at a Financial Times summit of the Future of the Car, Musk said that the ban had actually amplified Trump’s views and that enacting it was “morally wrong and flat out stupid”.

Trump has previously said that he would never return to Twitter and has since founded his own platform, ‘Truth Social.’ Musk argued that the isolating of Trump’s audience could do more damage in the long term than having everyone on a single platform to debate ideas.

Musk seems to value Twitter as a digital public square where the free flow of ideas is sacrosanct. Freedom of speech, in the die-hard American fashion, isn’t something that is shared across the world, however. There are limits in most countries on hate speech and discriminatory language, and it appears that these blocks, which Twitter has long implemented, are what Musk is going after. While he might consider this to be politically neutral, it’s evidently not.

Why do it? It’s something of a mystery, but clearly the value Musk places on the idea that Twitter represents is significant — at least until the next big idea comes along.

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