At first glance, the narrative of Twitter and Elon Musk appears to be one of unrequited love.
Our odd coupling begins with a power imbalance.
Elon Musk enjoys Twitter. He has a massive following of 83.8 million people. He tweets frequently, sometimes controversially, and occasionally disastrously. The SEC barred him from tweeting about Tesla matters after one tweet wiped $14 billion off its share price, and he was sued for defamation after calling a cave diver a “pedo man” in a tweet (the cave diver lost).
He has, nevertheless, never wandered far from his keyboard.
Twitter, on the other hand, is significantly less complimentary to Elon Musk.
You may believe that if someone paid you $44 billion for a 16-year-old company that hadn’t experienced the exponential growth of its competitors, they were doing you a favour – and Twitter’s shareholders appear to agree.
He wants Twitter to realise its “amazing potential,” he argues, and he’s not even interested in generating money from it. He already has a lot of things, and multibillionaires can afford to have various objectives.
Twitter responded by going on the defensive, instituting a “poison pill” approach that barred anyone from owning more than 15 per cent of the company’s stock as Musk circled the waggons, albeit a compromise has since been reached.
Perhaps Musk’s assertion that he wanted to see more “free expression” and less moderation alarmed the board. Many Republicans delighted, since they had long believed that Twitter’s moderation practises favoured the freedom of speech of left-leaning ideas.
However, regulators throughout the world are lined up to tighten down on social media platforms and require them to take more responsibility for the content they carry, awarding heavy fines for noncompliance on material that incites violence, is abusive, or qualifies as hate speech, among other things. The alarm bells are starting to sound.
Let’s not forget about the money. Twitter’s primary revenue model is reliant on advertising, which Musk wishes to modify.
He’s more interested in subscriptions, which could be difficult to market in an atmosphere where all of the major social networks are free to access. Twitter users may decide that they want that their data not be used to monetise them and are prepared to pay for it – but this is a risk.
He is also interested in cryptocurrencies. Could he utilise the platform to encourage payments in volatile, unprotected currencies like Bitcoin?
And then there’s Elon Musk. He is the world’s richest man, a serial entrepreneur whose triumphs include PayPal and Tesla. He’s personable and uninhibited, which may make him a bit of a wild cannon. He enjoys pushing limits and breaking regulations.
He didn’t want to be tied by accountability, which is why he rejected to join Twitter’s board after purchasing a 9.2 per cent share in January.
And he has legions of adoring admirers – I once tweeted about how, because of the way his finances are arranged (his fortune is mostly based on shares rather than cash income, and he doesn’t own property), he doesn’t pay income tax.
How dare I suggest that, he’s brilliant, and we should just be grateful for him, were the responses.
He hasn’t exactly wooed Twitter with roses and chocolates; instead, this is an aggressive pitch from an aggressive businessman – no discussion, no compromise.
It’s a private sale of a private company, and it’s not a merger of two behemoths, so there won’t be many regulatory hurdles.
Musk’s Twitter would be a very different world for the 300 million people who still use it, assuming they do. Perhaps more feisty and less liberal-leaning. He could restore Donald Trump, who is now barred from using social media, and considering that Mr Trump’s own attempt at a social network, Truth Social, appears to be failing, he would almost certainly be pleased to return.
It’s difficult to sum up the collective opinion of Twitter users. According to my amateur observations, for every tweet congratulating Musk, there appears to be another threatening to leave. But when did Twitter become popular?
(Adapted from BBC.com)