The Madlad Actually Did It: What Elon Musk's Acquisition of Twitter Means?
Not even a month ago, Elon Musk bought a 9.2% stake on Twitter effectively becoming the largest stakeholder. On top of that, he became a member of Twitter's Board of Directors. When I divulged into this development, I cautioned to approach with low expectations with the following:
While he is the largest shareholder, 9.2% is far from the majority. Other investors that cumulatively hold 50% of the shares can block whatever direction Musk wants Twitter to take. It is guaranteed that he will have to make compromises in order to get some traction and the question is to what degree?
Transforming Twitter into a more free speech oriented platform is a massive undertaking that will take more than just throwing a bunch of money at it. While on the surface, CEO Agrawal and Musk are getting along, it does not erase the former's censorship-happy track record. On top of that, Twitter has on a few occasions colluded with the US government to do its bidding, effectively making the corporation a state actor.
My reservations came out to be partially true. Musk did indeed face opposition, but it did not come from the shareholders; it came from the board.
Only four days later, Parag Agrawal sent out a statement that Musk would not be joining the Board of Directors. Instead, Musk offered to buy out the company outright for $43 billion as he "lambast[ed] company management and [said] he’s the person who can unlock the “extraordinary potential” of a communication platform". In response, the board adopted the "poison pill" option so that if Musk acquired over 15% of the shares, additional shares could be purchased at a discount. Of course, that did not sit well with the shareholders as such a maneuver would tank the value of their shares. Not only that, but acting against the shareholders' interests would be a breach of fiduciary duty as Musk pointed out.
While Twitter's board was adamant at not letting Musk get his way, that did not stop the Tesla CEO. According to the WSJ, Musk met with "several shareholders of the company to extol the virtues of his proposal" and vowed to "solve the free-speech issues he sees as plaguing the platform". Not long after the publication, Musk and Twitter officially agreed to a deal, and well... here we are.
In his celebratory statement, Musk emphasized the importance of free speech and described Twitter as a "digital town square". He reiterated at making the algorithm open source, an idea that he floated a month ago. Such a move would make Twitter exponentially more transparent and less susceptible to shenanigans such as shadow banning. Minds is one such example of a social media platform that makes its code open source and the overall experience is positive.
But the skeptical cynic may ask, "But what does he mean by 'free speech'?". I have expressed my doubts on other alternative platforms such as Frank Speech, GETTR, and Truth Social who advertised themselves as "free speech" platforms. Anyone can say "I support the freedom of speech" as lip service, but adhering to the principle in practice is another matter.
Today, Musk posted a tweet that further clarified his definition of free speech:
From what it looks like, under Musk's ownership, Twitter will not be banning users for mere mean tweets. However, tweets that call actions for violence or discrimination are illegal and therefore, bannable offenses. In another tweet in response to The Hill's Saagar Enjiti, Musk implies posting "misinformation" will not violate Twitter's rules either. In fact, he vehemently disagreed with the suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story when it first came out.
Whether Twitter will make this complete transformation from a censorious Big Brother platform to something more free speech oriented, that remains to be seen. On paper, Musk's ideas sound very nice. Being able to scrutinize Twitter's algorithm on Github or Gitlab will greatly deter any background shenanigans. If the moderation consistently adheres to Musk's definition of "free speech", then no complaints from me. Now, it's a matter of execution.