Elon Musk’s Twitter Takeover: Conquestor or Better Leader?

Elon Musk has bought all of Twitter in the name of free speech, and his motives are quite questionable.

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Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, the world’s richest person with a net worth of $246.7 billion, has successfully launched and won a shocking bid on Twitter, the social media platform where world leaders, celebrities, and hundreds of millions of other users share their thoughts and announcements. Musk believes that Twitter doesn’t allow for free speech, attacking the core concept of the app, and stated that it will not thrive without being transformed into a private company.

Initially, Twitter significantly lowered the price of stocks so more people would invest, forcing a raise in price of Musk’s bid in an attempt to thwart it. However, Twitter decided to reconsider the deal, and the two sides met on Sunday, April 24 to re-examine the proposal. In a groundbreaking deal, Musk obtained the entirety of Twitter for approximately $44 billion on April 25.

The public had a wide range of opinions on the matter. Some shook their heads in reluctant awe, some were supportive of the promise of free speech, and others were furious at the ridiculous amount of wealth and power Musk has gained. Musk owns some of the most important technology in the world, strong military assets, and now, a major social media platform. It’s justifiable for people to be outraged at the sheer amount of influence he has. While Musk doesn’t necessarily have malicious intent, there are some questionable motives and reasoning in play here. He said, “free speech is a societal imperative for a functioning democracy.” A day after Twitter announced that it was selling itself, Musk posted a tweet stating, “By ‘free speech,’ I simply mean that which matches the law. I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law.” The First Amendment disallows the government from restricting public speech, but it does not restrict the level of moderation that independent companies have on their content. While Musk claims to be matching the law, he is aiming for a free speech that goes beyond what the law requires, as the Supreme Court has ruled that social media platforms, such as Twitter, are not public forums and thus are not responsible for protecting the First Amendment.

Musk’s belief that this change needs to be made partially stems from the suspension of former president Donald Trump’s account after the January 6 Capitol riots. Musk went on further to talk about Truth Social, the platform Trump launched after being banned, and how he was forced to create it due to Twitter censoring free speech. Musk believes that Trump’s statements weren’t specifically violence-inciting and that Twitter’s response was an unnecessary violation of “free speech.” Under a generic definition, free speech includes both harmful and positive information, statements, and announcements that can be true or untrue. However, regulation and moderation are necessary when it comes to handling potentially detrimental misinformation and behavior.

The problem with an anarchical type of “free speech” extends beyond the controversy over Trump’s permanent suspension. The reality is that hate speech and propaganda will rise. We see this process on any platform, such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, which also hold their own regulations on their content. Like these other platforms, Twitter does not censor free speech as Musk claims it did. Preventing companies from moderating their content is essentially another form of censorship. Musk has already gotten hold of Twitter and is determined to promote what he calls “free speech,” but he instead essentially allows for the spread of misinformation and hate. This shift may negatively impact other social media companies as the essence of free speech may be prompted to change entirely if it is changed on one major platform. This development will have a severe impact on the entire Internet and its users, including students, among whom cyberbullying and misinformation are already major issues.

If free speech was the aim, whether it is necessary or not, it doesn’t explain why Twitter needed to be transformed into a completely private company. Musk was offered the chance to join Twitter’s board after he became the largest shareholder, but he rejected it without any explanation. His dramatic bid seems like an unnecessary measure to advocate for free speech. Further, it’s quite contradictory for a single person to hold power over something that’s supposed to be a tool for fundamental democracy. Who’s to say that Musk will hold true to his principles and that he is the right person for this job?

Nonetheless, Musk will have complete control over Twitter after the arrangements are finalized within the year, meaning it’s important to prepare ourselves for the very much possible widespread misinformation and hate that will come with the notion of “free speech.” More than ever, we will need to be careful about believing what we see. This is not to say there won’t be positive outcomes, such as removing spam bots and introducing new features, if Musk accomplishes them. It’s critical to be aware of the effects, both positive and negative, that Musk’s Twitter takeover will have.