By: Shuie Berger  | 

The Musky Smell of New Age Twitter

On April 25, it was confirmed that Elon Musk would be purchasing Twitter for the negligible price of $44 billion. Musk is the world’s richest person, with a net worth of approximately $265 billion, almost $100 billion more than the next person on the list, Jeff Bezos. Spearheading the electric vehicle movement, Musk’s company, Tesla, has produced the most popular electric vehicles ever, placing Musk at the forefront of the EV industry.

However, Elon Musk is no ordinary billionaire — he is what some might call “eccentric.” One might say that to be the richest person on Earth, eccentricity is part of the deal, and he’s always been a character; after all, he named his child X Æ A-Xii. However, his most recent dealings have thrown him into even more controversy than usual. 

On March 24, Musk tweeted a poll asking the public if the Twitter algorithm should be open source, meaning the public would have access to the code that determines what shows up on their feeds. Out of 1.1 million voters, almost 83% of them said “yes.” The next day, he tweeted another poll saying “Free speech is essential to a functioning democracy. Do you believe Twitter rigorously adheres to this principle?” Out of over two million voters, over 70% of them said “no.” The day after that, he tweeted “Is a new platform needed?” These tweets went viral among the many who have felt that Twitter has been unfairly banning people for small things. A common argument one might hear is, “they banned a former president, but the leaders of many terrorist groups, or official accounts groups themselves, still have Twitter accounts!” 

The people who have been fed up with Twitter’s seemingly partisan algorithm and grounds for banning lauded Musk for asking these basic but fundamental questions. He hadn’t even done anything about it yet, but the supporters saw Musk’s way of thinking as almost revolutionary, especially after it seemed that most corporations and billionaires, the ones best suited to bring about change, were never going to speak up. 

Then, on April 4, in a wild and unexpected move, Musk bought up over 9% of Twitter shares, making him the company’s largest shareholder. This became the news story of the week. While the purchase of the very specific percentage seemed ironic and almost funny in a sort of trolling fashion, Musk conveyed serious concern for the direction of the de facto town square. Every social media platform, Twitter, in particular, was buzzing with views on Musk’s purchase. Everyone had something to say about it. Some spoke about the consolidation of power and prevention of letting one man control the media, and some spoke about how this would enable more free speech, allowing more ideas to be exchanged.

Musk accepted but then declined a position on Twitter’s board. Then, on April 14, he made an offer to buy out the remaining shareholders for about $43 billion, in one of the largest Take-Private offers of the decade. While the offer was profitable for shareholders, the board adopted a “poison pill,”, or shareholder rights plan, which would dilute Musk’s stake in the company by discounting other investors’ shares if he sought further control. This plan would discourage a hostile takeover by any single investor. After securing the funds to acquire the company, Musk spoke with the board, and on April 25, they agreed to sell Twitter to Musk for $44 billion. Musk will take the company private after the acquisition is finalized.

The whole saga was exciting to follow on Twitter. While I have yet to implement my own personal erasure of social media, I had to stay updated on the developing situation. As with many similar events, people tend to polarize to one side of the story, bifurcating the issue. If we analyze the different sides of the coin, we can see where each party is coming from.

Failing to understand the basis of both sides’ arguments prevents anyone from gaining any ground. It is partially responsible for the increasingly polarized and politicized America we see today. The way I understand it, from the various reasons I have found on Twitter itself, the people who oppose Musk’s buying the platform are afraid of hate speech and the potential for an extreme form of “free speech.” Unmoderated free speech, such as death threats and gross misinformation, can be dangerous. The way they see it, if Musk allows more free speech, there will be a lot of harm done to many already-marginalized groups. 

On the other side of the coin, the supporters of Musk’s buyout view it as a revolutionary vehicle to finally combat the long-lasting effects of what has begun to reek of partisan censorship. The promises of open source code and more transparency are big reasons many support Musk’s moves. The advocates for the sale of Twitter, who may have long felt that they were being unfairly censored, see it as a move toward freedom of speech, something that is protected by the First Amendment. Twitter, the de facto town square for political discourse, should be equally censored, or not at all.

Now that we understand why each side of the issue thinks the way it does, what does that mean for Twitter and free speech in general? As with other constitutional disagreements such as gun control, there is no simple answer, and there will always be someone who doesn’t like the outcome. The people against Musk’s purchase don’t like it, and, maybe some will leave in protest. However, the future holds nothing certain. Perhaps the proclamation of “freedom of speech” may be a mask for hateful comments or misinformation, or perhaps it will directly lead to the transparency that many have wanted for so long. We don't know what will come of Twitter, but Musk brings a new age to social media as a whole. Regardless of what happens, Musk has done something no one has done before, squarely placing himself as a hero and villain on the front page of today’s society.

Picture Caption: We don't know what will come of Twitter, but Musk brings a New Age to social media as a whole.

Picture Credit: Unsplash