Musk buys Twitter, vows to permit ‘free speech’

Elon Musk (PHOTO: Reuters/Indian Express)

Social media became more interesting this week when outspoken billionaire and free-speech advocate Elon Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion (R695 billion rand), thereby transforming the tech giant into a private company.

“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” Musk said in a statement included in the press release announcing the deal which followed dramatic negotiations with the Twitter board after his unsolicited bid to buy the company.

“I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spambots, and authenticating all humans. Twitter has tremendous potential – I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it,” he said.

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Early reaction to the deal has been predictable with leftist outrage and thumbs-ups from conservative voices. Twitter has been accused of censoring Christian and conservative views which challenge leftist narratives and ideology. It has permanently banned a number of people over their views – most famously former US president Donald Trump.

Musk, the South African-born, richest man in the world and CEO of Tesla is regarded as neither left or right wing, but a libertarian. He calls himself a “free speech absolutist”.

Interestingly, Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey has thrown his support behind Musk’s acquisition of the platform. “In principle, I don’t believe anyone should own or run Twitter,” Dorsey said late on Monday reports Epoch News. “It wants to be a public good at a protocol level, not a company. Solving for the problem of it being a company, however, Elon is the singular solution I trust. I trust his mission to extend the light of consciousness.”

“Elon’s goal of creating a platform that is ‘maximally trusted and broadly inclusive’ is the right one. This is also @paraga’s goal, and why I chose him. Thank you both for getting the company out of an impossible situation. This is the right path … I believe it with all my heart,” Dorsey posted, referring to Parag Agarwal, the current CEO of Twitter who took over from Dorsey in November.

According to media reports White House press secretary Jen Psaki has hinted that President Joe Biden will go after Twitter because of his concerns about the power of social media platforms. The irony of this news is that Biden’s presidential campaign benefitted significantly as a result of Twitter and other big tech and mainstream  blocking news and views unfavourable to him.

In recent weeks, Musk has voiced a number of proposed changes for Twitter, from relaxing its content restrictions — such as the rules that suspended Trump’s account — to ridding the platform of fake and automated accounts, and shifting away from its advertising-based revenue model, reports CBN News.

Asked during a recent TED talk if there are any limits to his notion of “free speech,” Musk said Twitter or any forum is “obviously bound by the laws of the country that it operates in. So obviously there are some limitations on free speech in the US, and, of course, Twitter would have to abide by those rules.”

Beyond that, though, he said he’d be “very reluctant” to delete things and in general be cautious about permanent bans.

It won’t be perfect, Musk added, “but I think we want it to really have the perception and reality that speech is as free as reasonably possible.”

Meanwhile Donald Trump has stated that he will not be returning to Twitter if the ban on him is lifted. He told Fox News on Monday that he will formally join his own TRUTH Social over the next seven days, as planned.

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