Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, has set his sights on Twitter, said Christine Emba in The Washington Post. A keen tweeter himself, with more than 82.6 million followers, the Tesla tycoon began by “secretively” purchasing a 9.2% stake in the social media company, making him its largest individual shareholder. Now he has launched a hostile takeover bid worth $43bn, at $54.20 a share.
But while Musk’s fanbase will cheer, the rest of us shouldn’t. Twitter has 217 million users: journalists, activists and ordinary citizens tweeting on serious issues from the situation in Ukraine to Black Lives Matter. “What does it mean when a billionaire can almost single-handedly swoop in and eat up this sort of platform?” The answer: “nothing good”.
Musk has often misused his own Twitter account, said Ryan Coogan on The Independent. He has used it to boost his own share prices, to share Covid “misinformation”, and to baselessly slur the British caver Vernon Unsworth as “pedo guy” after he’d “committed the grave sin” of helping to rescue Thai children from a flooded cave. He’s an “anarchist”. Putting him in charge of Twitter “would be like handing a toddler a loaded gun”.
On the contrary, said Gerard Baker in The Times: a Musk-owned Twitter would be a great improvement, because Musk actually believes in free speech. Twitter has much fewer users than, say, Facebook, but it does play an “outsized” role in the lives of journalists, politicians and other news obsessives. As a result, it “drives much of our public discourse”, particularly in the contentious areas of party politics, gender and race.
In recent years it has played an important role in the progressives’ “war on heretical comment and inconvenient facts”. It banned Donald Trump in 2021 and, just before the 2020 election, it blocked a critical New York Post story about “influencepeddling” by Joe Biden’s son Hunter, which later turned out to be true. Under Musk, that would all change.
There’s no guarantee that Musk will get his way, since Twitter’s board really doesn’t want him in charge, said Kari Paul in The Guardian. They’ve unanimously approved a plan known as a “poison pill”, which will allow existing shareholders to buy stocks “at a substantial discount in order to dilute the holdings of new investors” if any of them buys more than 15%. So “in theory, the hostile investor’s cash would eventually run out”. The catch in this case is that Musk is worth around $260bn. Some have suggested this whole thing is an elaborate joke for him. We’ll soon find out how serious he is.