Twitter is no stranger to uncertain times.
In November 2021, longtime Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey stepped down. A new CEO, longtime Twitter engineer Parag Agrawal, became Dorsey’s successor, whom I wrote about late last year in Jack Dorsey Quits Twitter. (You’ll have to forgive the shameless self-promotion, but I digress.)
Now, in another unforeseen turn of events, billionaire SpaceX executive and Tesla owner Elon Musk has bought 9.2% of Twitter shares. I’m shocked he didn’t buy 69% or 42% of Twitter – if you know, you know. Despite being the largest individual shareholder and being offered a spot on Twitter’s board, Musk decreases. There could be several reasons why he declined a place on the board.
One of the main reasons is that it has historically used its platform (He has 80 million followers on Twitter alone.) to convince his followers to support any company in which he has a financial interest. This behavior is acceptable, as long as he does not sit on the board of directors of these companies.
Another could be due to his questionable actions which could result in fines from the SEC. He didn’t disclose his Twitter stake until 21 days after buying the shares. The SEC requirement is 10 days. This allowed him to buy the stock at a much lower price than he could have if he had announced his partial ownership of Twitter in a timely manner, earning him $159 billion much more than he did. whatever fine the SEC would cost him. Although, when you have Elon Musk’s wealth, are fines really a deterrent anyway?
Another reason is that sitting on the board now would lead to an ownership cap of 14.9%.
Like Musk, he followed his followers on Twitter after becoming the largest individual shareholder. He tweeted things like “Should we turn Twitter HQ into a homeless shelter? He also said he was “in goblin mode”, a quote from the popular show Breaking Bad. Both tweets are now deleted.
Update: As of this writing, Thursday, April 14, 2022, Elon Musk has made an offer to buy the rest of Twitter for $54.20 per share or $43 billion in total.
He calls it his “best and last offer”. That’s right, in another twist of events, Elon embarks on a hostile takeover of Twitter. It is too early to know if his offer will be accepted.
Musk says he feels “the person who can unleash the extraordinary potential of Twitter”.
For those who don’t know, Elon Musk is a big supporter of free speech. He describes himself as a “free speech absolutist” and believes that Twitter is “the platform for free speech in the world”, but feels that it cannot achieve its full potential until it did not turn it into a private enterprise.
Since social media sites are private platforms, they can set whatever moderation standards they deem appropriate. Twitter’s current standards are restrictive, which Musk may seek to relax. This means that users cannot quote the First Amendment when banned or de-platformed on any social media site. Musk is a longtime advocate of an “uncontrolled internet.”
He also has other big ideas for the social media giant, including the complete removal of ads. Twitter currently derives 90% of its revenue, or about $5 billion, from advertising. Advertisers are the ones who usually set moderation standards as a condition for running their ads. Eliminating the ads could help further his cause for complete freedom of speech. He also mentioned wanting to add an edit button, so Tweets can be edited after they are posted. Considering how many public figures find themselves embroiled in controversy because of their Tweets, that’s not a bad thing.
Twitter as a public company, even under a change in management, grew rapidly, attracting 25 million new users by the end of the year, meaning Twitter amassed a user base of 217. million in 2021.
Critics, however, believe Musk’s anti-censorship crusade won’t solve Twitter’s problems. Many fear that Musk is using his power to allow previously banned users to return to the platform. Former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich has called out Musk, saying his view of an uncontrolled internet is dangerous. Reich thinks that such an animal does not exist and will never exist. Here is a list of public figures who, at present, are permanently banned from Twitter.
Fellow billionaire and business owner Mark Cuban weighed in with a theory.
Mark Cuban thinks it’s Musk’s way of “fuckin’ with the SEC.”
Musk, who called the SEC “bastards” over a forced settlement of Tesla tweets, where he paid $20 million in fines and resigned as Tesla chairman after posting a tweet about obtaining financing for Tesla shares in order to take the company private. Cuban is in the camp that Musk’s actions are a big f*ck to you at the SEC. Musk filed with the SEC, then appropriately tweeted the statement of intent to buy Twitter, to avoid further issues with the SEC.
Obviously, as a writer, I’m all for free speech, but allowing completely uncontrolled or unmoderated spaces on the internet is never a good idea, and has historically only had negative results. The internet makes any interest or activity, no matter how nefarious, possible and visible on the regular web, as opposed to the dark web. For example, several grassroots terrorist organizations have appeared on unmoderated corners of the web. Of course, the principle of controlled internet can be pushed too far, like what we see in communist countries. I believe there is a middle ground.
Twitter’s current fate seems more uncertain than ever. We know Musk will play a role in the future of Twitter, but how much? Will Twitter accept his offer? Will Musk privatize Twitter and turn it into an uncontrolled, unmoderated space on the web? (We see how it went with Parler.)
I guess only time will tell.