Elon Musk, who until about last week was known on Twitter mainly for trolling and subject to the wrath of the SEC, has now set his sights on taking over the platform. Speaking at a TED conference on Thursday, the Tesla CEO identified his position hostile takeover bid is not something he want to do, but which he feels is “important to the functioning of democracy.”
“It is vital to the function of the United States as a free nation and many other nations,” he said. “The lower the civility risk, the more we can improve the trust of Twitter as a public platform.”
That sounds like a lofty goal – and it’s not much different from the way Jack Dorsey and other Twitter leaders platform — but Musk’s actual ideas for making Twitter “more trustworthy” are strange and sometimes contradictory. It shows that he has very little understanding of how Twitter works, much less how to run the company.
During the interview, Musk has repeatedly stated that he believes that speech on Twitter should be restricted only to what is legal. Twitter, he said, “Wrong side, if in doubt, let the speech exist.” He said permanent bans should be used sparingly. “A good indicator of whether there is freedom of speech is, [if] People you don’t like are allowed to say something you don’t like, and if that’s the case then we have freedom of speech.”
Aside from his somewhat narrow stance on free speech, Musk’s track record seems to contradict this claim. Although he has no experience running a social media company, his actions as CEO of Tesla show that there are many situations where he is notably less committed to freedom of speech.
As Quartz Musk reported many Tesla workers disagree with him. Recently, an employee was for posting a video on his personal YouTube channel describing flaws in Tesla’s self-driving software running on his own car. Musk is also said to have tried to force a law firm, hired by Tesla and SpaceX, to fire an associate who had previously worked for his arch-enemy, the SEC, in a lawsuit. for the attorney’s involvement in the investigative agency’s investigation of Musk. Incidentally, Tesla has faced accusations of discrimination and is currently competing with from the state of California regarding the treatment of Black employees.
Reliability and safety experts are also quick to point out that the lack of content moderation actually has a chilling effect on freedom of expression. “Effective censorship is not inherently at odds with free speech,” tweeted Samidh Chakrabarti, Facebook’s former head of citizen integrity. “People need to be free to speak up.”
This is not just theory. Just ask former CEO Dick Costolo, who famously presided over one of the most toxic eras in Twitter history thanks to an effective approach to content moderation. Under his CEO tenure, Gamergate and other targeted harassment campaigns were able to drive the number of users away from the platform. Costolo that his failure to deal with trolls was a big mistake.
Others point out that less censorship will quickly lead to Twitter being flooded with spam and other shady – but perfectly legal – content. Even Musk seems to contradict himself on this point, saying that the “first priority” would be to remove Twitter from the “spam and scam bots and bots” that frequently impersonate him.
Out of the culture war over “freedom of speech”, Twitter is facing its own. The company is still in the middle , changing many of its core features in an attempt to find new revenue streams. It’s still aggressive for users and revenue will prove to be challenging even for seasoned Twitter insiders — something Musk isn’t.
And Musk doesn’t seem to know what he really wants. He admitted that he wasn’t sure if he could actually buy Twitter (the other shareholders seemed on that point) and declares no interest in making money on his investment. He claims to have a “plan B,” but doesn’t share details. He also admits that his tweets are not just a “stream of consciousness” that he sometimes composes while .
As with so many other things he does, it’s impossible to tell if he really wants complete control over Twitter or if all of this is another elaborate trolling. It could be both.
“I think this is going to be a bit painful,” he mused. On that, at least, he’s in the right place.
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