Why Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover is a crossroads for social media
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Elon Musk last night (27 October) completed his $44 billion (£38 billion) takeover of Twitter, following a protracted negotiation period. The richest man in the world, CEO of Tesla, founder of SpaceX and once-significant figure at PayPal, now has the keys to one of the largest social networks in the world. He’s already set his Twitter bio to “Chief Twit”...
Upon completion of his new purchase, Musk tweeted a statement: “I did it to try and help humanity, whom I love. And I do so with humility, recognising that failure in pursuing this goal, despite our best efforts, is a very real possibility." His first move after taking control was to fire the social media company’s top leadership, which he accused of misleading him over the number of spam accounts on the platform. A quiet start then.
Musk is the richest person in the world, according to Forbes Magazine’s rich list, with an estimated fortune of $219 billion. Often we fantasise about what it would be like to be a billionaire, to have that much money; what we would do and how we would spend it. Properties in the most beautiful parts of the world, fast cars and expensive food, maybe even buy a sports team? But for the actual richest person, it seems he wants to buy a website.
What does this mean for Twitter? The projections have been varied, from as early as the news first emerged a few months ago. Many have predicted that those previously banned from the platform for their extreme views or repeated sharing of fake information will be allowed back on. Musk has previously stated that Twitter’s ban of former US President Donald Trump was “foolish in the extreme”. Indeed, in one of his first tweets since the purchase, Musk stated “the bird is freed.”
In the short term, his takeover is not likely to have an immediate impact. Twitter will still operate as normal. The only real thing that has changed at this moment is that the company has gone from publicly-owned to privately-owned. But it is interesting to understand why the richest person in the world would want to buy such a platform.
Musk’s public views on “free speech” have led to suggestions that the content we see on Twitter and the guidelines that control it could be changed, or even removed. When Musk first launched a ‘hostile takeover’ to buy Twitter, he said he wanted the website to do a better job of promoting free speech. Because Twitter is no longer a public company, but in the private hands of Musk, he sets the rules - what he says, will likely go.
Alongside the changes he has already made in the first 24 hours of his ownership, there have been rumours of changes in personnel and operations. For those who advertise on Twitter, Musk set out to reassure them with a Tweet in which he said he wants the platform to “be a place where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence.” He added that “There is currently great danger that social media will splinter into far right wing and far-left echo chambers that generate more hate and divide our society.” Whilst it’s difficult to disagree with that, it’s also difficult to see how this purchase remedies that issue.
Like everything with Elon Musk, the next few months are sure to generate headlines.