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  4. Musk takes Twitter; says he wants to 'privatise' platform, promises more lenient touch to policing content

Musk takes Twitter; says he wants to 'privatise' platform, promises more lenient touch to policing content

Elon Musk has described himself as a “free-speech absolutist” but is also known for blocking or disparaging other Twitter users who question or disagree with him.

Vani Mehrotra Edited by: Vani Mehrotra @vani_mehrotra New Delhi Updated on: April 26, 2022 7:39 IST
Elon Musk, Elon Musk Twitter, Twitter Elon Musk, Elon Musk news, Twitter news
Image Source : AP

FILE - Elon Musk founder, CEO, and chief engineer/designer of SpaceX speaks during a news conference 

Highlights

  • Elon Musk currently has more than 83 million followers
  • Shares of Twitter Inc. rose more than 5 per cent Monday to $51.70 per share
  • The NAACP has urged Musk not to allow Trump back on the social media platform

Elon Musk bought Twitter for roughly $44 billion on Monday, promising a more lenient touch to policing content on the social media platform where he — the world’s richest person — promotes his interests, attacks critics and opines on a wide range of issues to his more than 83 million followers. Now, the outspoken Tesla CEO has said he wants to own and privatize Twitter because he thinks it’s not living up to its potential as a platform for free speech.

In a joint statement with Twitter, Musk voiced he wants to make the service 'better than ever' with new features. He also said he wants the social media platform to get rid of automated spam accounts, making its algorithms open to the public to increase trust.

“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, adding hearts, stars and rocket emojis in a tweet that highlighted the statement.

Elon Musk and the Twitter deal 

The deal was cemented roughly two weeks after the billionaire first revealed a 9 per cent stake in the platform. Last week, Musk had said he had lined up $46.5 billion in financing to buy Twitter, putting pressure on the company’s board to negotiate a deal.

Twitter said the transaction was unanimously approved by its board of directors and is expected to close in 2022, pending regulatory sign-off and the approval of shareholders.

Meanwhile, shares of Twitter Inc. rose more than 5 per cent Monday to $51.70 per share. 

On April 14, Musk announced an offer to buy Twitter for $54.20 per share. While the stock is up sharply since Musk made his offer, it is well below the high of $77 per share it reached in February 2021.

Musk to go stricter with Twitter?

Musk has described himself as a “free-speech absolutist” but is also known for blocking or disparaging other Twitter users who question or disagree with him.

In recent weeks, he has proposed relaxing Twitter content restrictions — such as the rules that suspended former President Donald Trump’s account — while ridding the platform of fake “spambot” accounts and shifting away from advertising as its primary revenue model. Musk believes he can increase revenue through subscriptions that give paying customers a better experience — possibly even an ad-free version of Twitter.

Asked during a recent TED interview if there are any limits to his notion of “free speech,” Musk said Twitter would abide by national laws that restrict speech around the world. Beyond that, he said, he’d be “very reluctant” to delete posts or permanently ban users who violate the company’s rules.

It won’t be perfect, Musk added, “but I think we want it to really have the perception and reality that speech is as free as reasonably possible.”

Twitter goes to Musk - Why is Trump a 'big deal'?

After the deal was announced, the NAACP released a statement urging Musk not to allow Trump, the 45th president, back onto the platform.

“Do not allow 45 to return to the platform,” the civil rights organization said in a statement. “Do not allow Twitter to become a petri dish for hate speech or falsehoods that subvert our democracy.”

As both candidate and president, Trump made Twitter a powerful megaphone for speaking directly to the public, often using incendiary and divisive language on hot-button issues. He was permanently banned from the service in the aftermath of the January 6 storming of the Capitol.

Advertisers, currently Twitter’s main customers, have also pushed for the stronger content rules Musk has criticized. Keeping them happy requires moderation limiting hate speech so that brands aren’t trying to promote their products next to “calls for genocide,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media studies professor at the University of Virginia.

Musk’s pledge to make Twitter a haven for free speech could dim the appeal of Donald Trump’s troubled Truth Social app, which the former president has touted as a competitor to Twitter that would cater to conservatives. Truth Social is part of Trump’s new media company, which has agreed to be taken public by Digital World Acquisition Corp. Shares of DWAC dropped 16.2 per cent Monday and are down 46 per cent since Musk revealed his stake in Twitter.

Meanwhile, some users said Monday that they were planning to quit the platform if Musk took it over. To which he responded on Twitter: “I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means.”

While Twitter’s user base of more than 200 million remains much smaller than those of rivals such as Facebook and TikTok, the service is popular with celebrities, world leaders, journalists and intellectuals. Musk himself is a prolific tweeter with a following that rivals several pop stars in the ranks of the most popular accounts.

Musk has a fortune of nearly $268 billion, much of which is tied up in Tesla stock and SpaceX, his privately held space company. It’s unclear how much cash Musk holds.

How did luck happen to Elon Musk?

Musk began making his fortune in 1999 when he sold Zip2, an online mapping and business directory, to Compaq for $307 million. He used his share to create what would become PayPal, an internet service that bypassed banks and allowed consumers to pay businesses directly. It was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002.

That same year, Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, after finding that cost constraint were limiting NASA’s interplanetary travel. The company eventually developed cost-effective reusable rockets.

In 2004, Musk was courted to invest in Tesla, then a startup trying to build an electric car. Eventually, he became CEO and led the company to astronomical success as the world’s most valuable automaker and largest seller of electric vehicles.

(With inputs from AP)

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