Twitter is no stranger to uncertain times.
In November of 2021, Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s long-standing CEO, stepped down. A new CEO, long-time Twitter engineer, Parag Agrawal, became Dorsey’s successor, which I covered late last year in Jack Dorsey steps down from Twitter. (You’ll have to forgive the shameless self-promotion, but I digress.)
Now, in another unforeseen turn of events, Elon Musk, billionaire SpaceX exec and the owner of Tesla bought 9.2% of Twitter stock. 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 the board for Twitter, Musk declined. There could be several reasons he declined a spot on the board.
One main reason is that he historically has used his platform (He has 80 million followers on Twitter alone) to convince his followers to support any company that he has a financial interest in. This behavior is fine, so long as he does not sit on the board of these companies.
Another could be because of his dubious actions that may lead to SEC fines. He failed to disclose his stake in Twitter until 21 days after he bought the shares. The SEC requirement is 10 days. This allowed him to buy the stock at a much lower price than he would’ve been able to if he had announced his partial ownership of Twitter in a timely fashion, this earned him $159 billion far greater than any SEC fine would cost him. Although, when you have the wealth of Elon Musk, are fines really a deterrent anyway?
Another reason is that being on the board now would lead to a 14.9% ownership cap.
In true Musk fashion, he was trolling his followers on Twitter after becoming the largest individual shareholder. He tweeted things such as “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: At the time of writing, Thursday, April 14th, 2022 Elon Musk made an offer to buy the rest of Twitter for $54.20 a share or $43 billion total.
He calls this his “best and final offer”. That’s right folks, in yet another turn of events, Elon is going for a full-on hostile takeover of Twitter. It is too soon to see if his bid will be accepted.
Musk states that he feels that he’s “The person who can unlock the extraordinary potential of Twitter.”
For those unaware, Elon Musk is a big proponent of free speech. He refers to himself as a “free speech absolutist” and thinks that Twitter is “the platform for free speech around the world,” but believes it cannot reach its full potential until he transforms it into a private company.
Because social media sites are private platforms, they can set whatever moderation standards they see fit. Current standards for Twitter are restrictive, which Musk could seek to loosen. This means that users cannot cite the First Amendment when they are shadowbanned or de-platformed on any social media site. Musk has been a long-time advocate for an “uncontrolled internet.”
He also has other big ideas for the social media giant, including doing away with advertisements completely. Twitter currently makes 90% of its income, or around $5 billion, from advertising. Advertisers are the ones who typically set moderation standards as a condition to run their ads. Eliminating ads could help further his cause for completely free speech. He also mentioned wanting to add an edit button, so that Tweets can be edited after they are posted. Considering the number of public figures who find themselves embroiled in controversy because of their Tweets, this is not a bad thing.
Twitter, as a public company, even under a change in leadership was growing rapidly, garnering 25 million new users by the end of the year, which means Twitter has amassed a user base of 217 million as of 2021.
Critics, however, believe that Musk’s anti-censorship crusade won’t solve Twitter’s problems. Many are worried that Musk would use his power to allow previously banned users back on the platform. Former secretary of U.S. labor, Robert Reich, called out Musk, saying that his vision for an uncontrolled internet is dangerous, Reich believes there is no such animal and never will be. Here’s a list of public figures, who, as of right now, are permanently banned from Twitter.
Fellow billionaire and business owner, Mark Cuban, has weighed in with a theory.
Mark Cuban thinks it’s Musk’s way of “F*cking with the SEC”.
Musk, who referred to the SEC as “bastards” over a forced settlement of Tesla Tweets, where he paid $20 million on fines and stepped down as Tesla’s chairman after posting a tweet about having funding secured for Tesla stock to take the company private. Cuban is in the camp that Musk’s actions are a big f*ck you to the SEC. Musk filed with the SEC and then fittingly, tweeted the declaration of intent to purchase Twitter, to avoid more issues with the SEC.
Obviously, as a writer, I am pro-free speech, however 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 able to be viewed on the regular web, as opposed to the dark web. For example, multiple grassroots terrorist organizations came about on unmoderated corners of the web. Of course, the principle of controlled internet can be taken too far, like what we see in communist countries. I believe a happy medium exists.
Twitter’s current fate seems more uncertain than ever. We know Musk will have some role in Twitter’s future 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 that turned out with Parler.)
I guess only time will tell.