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Elon Musk vs. Twitter

Elon Musk vs. Twitter

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Elon Musk’s relationship with Twitter has gone from prolific tweeter to becoming its largest shareholder, nearly joining its board and then launching a hostile takeover bid. What is he trying to do?

“I use my tweets to express myself… Some people use their hair. I use Twitter.”

Elon Musk, CBS 60 Minutes

That’s Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, talking to CBS News’ 60 Minutes.

The 274 billion dollar man has sent more than seventeen thousand tweets since joining Twitter in June 2009.

On average that’s three, every day… for 13 years.  

So why does Elon Musk use Twitter so much? 

And what is going on in his turbulent relationship with the platform?

***

Presenter: “You use your Tweets to get back at critics, you have little wars with the press.
Elon: Twitter is a warzone. If somebody’s going to jump in the war zone, it’s like ‘okay, you’re in the arena. Let’s go’.:  

CBS 60 Minutes

Elon Musk sees Twitter as a battleground for ideas where the most influential, or viral ones, rise to the top. 

He’s described himself as a “free-speech absolutist”, and has argued on his account that “free speech is essential to a functioning democracy”.

This belief extends to thinking that everyone is entitled to their opinion; however controversial or offensive it may be. 

And Elon Musk certainly expresses himself on Twitter, sometimes controversially, and sometimes untruthfully.

***

In 2018, Elon Musk tweeted

[TWITTER SOUND EFFECT]

“Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.”

[TWITTER SOUND EFFECT]

The US Securities and Exchange Commission, which regulates markets, disputed the claim, and charged him with securities fraud for misleading information. 

It’s one of many examples that makes you think Elon Musk sometimes tweets off-the-cuff… because he can.

But his words, and his 80 million followers, can now move markets.

“I am somewhat impulsive, and I don’t want to adhere to some sort of CEO template.”

Elon Musk

Elon Musk’s engagement with Twitter seems to border on the obsessive.

He’s  even called out other celebrities with big Twitter followings, like Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift, for not tweeting enough. 

So how did the most recent saga unfold?

***

In many ways it was a natural step for Elon Musk to become formally involved in Twitter. 

“Elon Musk becoming Twitter’s largest shareholder a week after…What should be done?”

Bloomberg

On the 4th of April, news broke that he had bought 9.2 percent of the social media giant’s shares… Making him the company’s single largest shareholder. 

The next day, Twitter’s chief executive Parag Agrawal, announced that Elon Musk would be joining the board, pending a background check and formal acceptance.

Elon Musk said he was “looking forward to working with Parag and the Twitter board to make significant improvements to Twitter in coming months”.

But five days later, on the 10th of April, Parag Agrawal tweeted that Elon Musk had changed his mind and wouldn’t be joining the board. 

In a statement he said, quote, “I believe this is for the best. We have and will always value input from our shareholders whether they are on our board or not… Elon is our biggest shareholder and we will remain open to his input”. End quote.

***

Before his ‘will he, won’t he’ with Twitter, Elon Musk had tweeted asking

[TWITTER SOUND EFFECT]

 “Is a new platform needed?”

[TWITTER SOUND EFFECT]

In the past, on the Joe Rogan Experience, he’s even suggested he might build his own social media platform. 

“It’s still a thing that’s important to figure out… is a company deserving of more or less capital?.. If it’s not it should get less or go out of business”

Elon Musk, The Joe Rogan Experience

Elon Musk seemed to be weighing up whether he deemed Twitter worthy of existence… worthy of more capital allocation. 

And several years later he’s gone on to spend 2.64 billion dollars on Twitter stock. 

When he went public about buying a stake in Twitter, the social media company’s shares jumped by 27 per cent.

And as if to underline Elon Musk’s rollercoaster relationship with Twitter, on the 14th of April, even bigger news broke. 

Elon Musk offered to buy the entire platform. All in. For 41 billion dollars. 

***

Elon Musk divides opinion.

Some people see him as a visionary. 

Others, a hyper capitalist, out for his own interests.

Some… a dangerous radical. 

So when he appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, he was asked this…

“Stephen Colbert: Are you sincerely trying to save the world?
Elon: Well I’m trying to do good things yeah… Saving the world… is not… I mean.
Stephen: But you’re trying to do good things and you’re a billionaire… that seems a little bit like either superhero, or supervillain. You have to choose one…
Elon: *pause* I try to do useful things…”

Elon Musk, Stephen Colbert

Superhero or supervillain, Elon Musk seems determined to have more control over what he once called the world’s “de facto public square”.

A takeover of the entire platform would put him in the driving seat when it comes to Twitter’s terms of service. 

The rules it uses to govern harmful speech and content moderation. 

Elon Musk’s offer is definitely lowballing – shares in Twitter were at 70 dollars each last year, and his bid puts them at just 54 – but whether he succeeds in buying the whole platform or not, his vision for free speech in the online world will inevitably have an impact.

Today’s story was written by Luke Gbedemah and mixed by Ella Hill.