This past month, Elon Musk shocked everyone by purchasing 9.2% of social media giant Twitter. Even to those who have become accustomed to his publicity antics, the move seemed outrageous. Why on Earth would Musk, the richest man on the planet, want to bother himself with the likes of Twitter? Of course, many were quick to claim that changes at Twitter under Musk should be feared. Giving someone with such wealth and power control over a major communications outlet could only mean bad news. But this knee-jerk type of response is both shortsighted and lazy. By examining Musk’s interest in Twitter a bit deeper, a different picture emerges.
Over the last few decades, it’s become evident tech giants enjoy tremendous control and power. Google, Facebook/Meta, and Twitter each enjoy monopolistic power within their respective markets. On a daily basis, these companies determine precisely what content we see and hear. They choose which information can or cannot be shared, and they prioritize news feeds and rankings accordingly. And they’ve only paid lip-service to consumer privacy rights, requiring companies like Apple to serve as privacy protectors. Thus far, Congress has failed to step up to the plate and address these issues effectively. For all of these reasons, the changes at Twitter under Musk may be welcomed breath of fresh air.
Musk’s Timing Is Quite Revealing
For all those op-eds sounding the alarm against Musk, few have really considered the timing of his actions. The day before his Twitter stock purchases, he posted the results of a user poll concerning free speech. In short, the poll asked whether Twitter honored the right to free speech as it pertains to a healthy democracy. Over 70% of the participants in the survey responded “no.” This appears to have elevated Musk’s interest in Twitter and in influencing its policies. He has since become one of Twitter’s board of directors and even offered $43 billion for the company. These events suggest that changes at Twitter under Musk are a real possibility for the future.
The immediate reaction in the media was that Musk was looking to expand his net wealth even more. But money has never been a sole motivating factor for Musk. He is estimated to be worth $330 billion. Therefore, Musk’s interest in Twitter isn’t likely a financial one. Managing a social media company is challenging at best, and he has other more pressing responsibilities. Likewise, he isn’t in advancing his own ideology or agenda either. His policy views are notably varied depending on the issue. And he’s certainly not anticipating running for public office. The changes at Twitter under Musk are therefore not ones with a targeted agenda. Instead, they are likely ones with a broader mission that hopes to protect free speech.
An Unlikely Hero of Free Speech
Admittedly, Musk calls himself a free speech absolutist. In other words, he supports the idea that a state of true freedom of speech requires broad opportunities for expression. He also believes the First Amendment should be protected from imposed limitations. While this usually refers to government limitations, Musk extends these beliefs to all media outlets including social media. Thus, it’s not surprising that he has had his disagreements with Twitter and their bans, restrictions, and deletions. Twitter, whether purposefully or not, has become the “go-to” place for real-time, global news. The changes at Twitter under Musk would look to address these policies first. And that would be a breath of fresh air for those who sincerely believe democracies thrive under First Amendment protections.
Rather than be upset about Musk’s interest in Twitter, we should be inspired. After all, is anyone truly happy by the way Twitter restricts content now? The algorithms used to determine which expressions are harmful or not are largely undisclosed. The same lack of transparency applies to Google and Facebook as well. At the same time, consumers receive content feeds designed by social media engineers with key agendas. In most cases, these agendas hope to attract advertising dollars and a captive audience. But once again, these determinations are kept secret under the disguise of proprietary privilege. Let’s hope that changes at Twitter under Musk attempts to reverse these policies. Not only do we need to protect our First Amendment rights but our rights to data privacy as well.
Systematic Failures Abound
In an ideal world, changes at Twitter under Musk wouldn’t be required. Congress and political leaders would operate in an efficient manner to protect Constitutional rights and consumer privacy. Even in its absent, there might still be hope that tech companies would approach practices in an ethical manner. But in today’s world, monopolies and billionaires have failed to move in the right direction. Censorship and bias have been used as a tool for discrimination, both intentional and unintentional. It is exactly these developments that provoked Musk’s interest in Twitter at present.
One of the more critical articles against Musk’s interest in Twitter appeared in the Washington Post. Its author, Tim O’Brien, suggests Musk’s real intentions are to unduly influence Twitter’s board. Given Musk’s financial status and power, it was implied that he would coerce changes in his favor through media communications. The irony of this is almost comical, considering the Washington Post itself is owned by Jeff Bezos. Exactly who’s influencing who through controlled media? One thing is clear. Governments, tech companies, and media giants have all dropped the ball when it comes to free speech. Given this, any changes at Twitter under Musk will likely be a godsend.
It Takes One to Know One
The bottom line is that free speech is under attack, and increasingly, consumer privacy protections are fading. Major tech companies, especially those involved in communications, have the ability to exploit their wealth and power. In some cases, business ethics are ignored, and these tools used to further advance their position. But that doesn’t mean that all large corporations or even billionaires have such agendas. Some truly believe in protecting the freedom of speech and privacy rights. Despite what many claim about Musk, actions speak louder than their words. Musk realizes what’s at stake, which has fueled his interest in Twitter. And this wouldn’t be the first industry Musk disrupts. The changes at Twitter under Musk may be the ones democracy needs, especially given the inadequacies of others.