In news that is the focal point of today's viral cycle, Tesla founder and CEO, Elon Musk has reportedly reached a deal with Twitter to purchase the platform for $44 billion, giving the shareholder full control of the platform which currently has 200 million users. The sale will put the Tesla chief executive in charge of a company that he has frequently criticised, claiming it has not lived up to its potential as a platform for “free speech”.
The deal comes after a few weeks of speculation after Musk publicly set his sights on acquiring the social media platform following a move that made him the platforms largest single shareholder on April 4. Ten days following, he launched a takeover bid for the platform (the reason for such a move still doesn't quite make sense to us) propositioning purchasing all of Twitter's shares for $54.20 each.
When Musk first launched his campaign to purchase the platform, Twitter's board was vehemently opposed to the idea, enacting an anti-takeover measure called a poison pill which essentially means a takeover would be outrageously expensive and likely not worth it. Twitter's initial apprehension now seems to be a not-so-distant memory after Musk offered up a funding package of the deal, which would see $21 billion from his own pocket, alongside debt funding from Morgan Stanley and other financial institutions which has seen the board warm to the proposition, according to The Guardian.
So why is everyone so concerned beyond the fact that the worlds richest man will now have full control of one of the biggest social media platforms in the world?
The future of free speech at Musk's Twitter
The biggest uncertainty in the news of his acquirement is to do with Musks very public stance on free speech, which he has made clear is one of his primary reasons for purchasing the platform, to support unfettered "expression" and reduce and/or end user bans or the removal of certain tweets. “It’s very important for there to be an inclusive arena for free speech,” Musk urged during an interview at the TED conference in April. “Twitter has become kind of the de-facto town square, so it’s just really important that people have both the reality and the perception that they are able to speak freely within the bounds of the law.”
He drove his point home in a statement he posted to Twitter on April 26. “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,” Musk said. “Twitter has tremendous potential – I look forward to working with the company and users to unlock it,” he added.
A concern that has been publicly raised is the reinstatement of Donald Trump's Twitter account, which was permanently deactivated after inciting the Capitol Riots on January 6, 2021. so much so, that after the deal was announced, the NAACP called on Musk to not allow Trump back on Twitter.
“Disinformation, misinformation and hate speech have NO PLACE on Twitter,” the NAACP said in a statement. “Do not allow 45 to return to the platform. Do not allow Twitter to become a petri dish for hate speech, or falsehoods that subvert our democracy.”
Luckily, Trump has claimed that he would not return to Twitter even if his account were reinstated, telling Fox News on Monday: “I hope Elon buys Twitter because he’ll make improvements to it and he is a good man, but I am going to be staying on Truth,” he said of his social media startup, Truth Social. There is, however, no way to be sure that Musk won't reinstate him, and what Trump will decide to do if his account is reactivated, especially if he decides to run for his second presidency in the 2024 election.
Alongside this, many politicians and campaigners have raised concern about the burgeoning deal, given the growing power billionaires and big tech's growing power over platforms used by millions as a key information source.
Jen Psaki, the White House spokesperson has Tweeted her own opinion on the matter shortly after the news broke, stating: “No matter who owns or runs Twitter, the president has long been concerned about the power of large social media platforms,” while Elizabeth Warren called the deal “dangerous for our democracy”. “Billionaires like Elon Musk play by a different set of rules than everyone else, accumulating power for their own gain,” she tweeted.
This deal is dangerous for our democracy. Billionaires like Elon Musk play by a different set of rules than everyone else, accumulating power for their own gain. We need a wealth tax and strong rules to hold Big Tech accountable.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) April 25, 2022
According to The Guardian, Rebecca Allensworth, professor of law at Vanderbilt University, described the deal as “troubling”, citing concerns about the amount of power Musk will now wield.
“There is something deeply troubling about a privately-held company holding the power Twitter does over public speech, especially if Twitter will be controlled by someone with as idiosyncratic views about speech as Musk. American free speech law is essentially just the first amendment, which only constrains government actors, not a company like Twitter or a person like Elon Musk,” she said.
As far as any interface changes to the platform, nothing certain is known, aside from speculation that Musk will introduce an "edit" button.