Elon Musk’s shock offer to buy Twitter sparked immediate fears on Thursday — and some cheers — of putting the platform in the hands of a mercurial billionaire who advocates fewer limits on what people can post.
Tech watchers reacted to the Tesla chief’s proposal for one of the world’s most influential information exchanges with immediate concerns about accountability, public discourse and even its impact on democracy.
“Twitter is too big to be owned and controlled by one person,” tweeted venture capitalist Fred Wilson. “The opposite should happen. Twitter should be decentralized.”
However, the $43 billion pitch faces uncertainty on multiple fronts, including potential resistance from the board or shareholders, as well as a lack of information on how Musk would actually finance the offer. entirely in cash.
Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has already spoken out against the proposal, saying it is too low, drawing a scathing response from Musk questioning Saudi Arabia’s “views on freedom of expression for journalists”.
Still, Musk provided some details Thursday about his vision, saying he’d like to lift the lid on the algorithm that runs on the platform, even allowing people to browse it and suggest changes.
He also reiterated his stance in favor of a more hands-off approach to policing content on the platform, a thorny issue that has fueled Twitter’s criticism, especially for the most high-profile cases of breaches of its terms of service. ‘use.
Donald Trump’s critics have long called for him to be kicked off the site, but his supporters later expressed outrage after he was banned, fearing his tweets would spark violence.
“I think we just want to be very reluctant to remove things and be very careful with permanent bans. Wait times, I think, are better,” Musk said in a conference Thursday, without addressing directly to Trump.
“I think we really want to have, as a sort of obsession and reality, that speech be as free as reasonably possible,” he added.
Critics have argued that free speech absolutism on social media can be very messy in the real world.
“I’m scared of the impact on society and politics if Elon Musk acquires Twitter,” Washington Post columnist Max Boot tweeted.
“He seems to believe that on social media, anything goes. For democracy to survive, we need more content moderation, not less,” Boot added.
Yet proponents of Musk’s hostile takeover bid have come to the exact opposite conclusion, welcoming the prospect.
“This is the best free speech news in years!” tweeted Nigel Farage, a populist British politician who helped lead the Brexit campaign.
American conservatives like Senator Ted Cruz have also expressed support for less moderation.
“If the left thinks they’re right, why are they so terrified of free speech?” he tweeted in response to Boot’s criticism.
Yet both left and right across the political spectrum in the United States have been skeptical of the power concentrated in the hands of social media platforms and their lack of accountability.
National U.S. lawmakers have been deadlocked for so long over how to regulate Big Tech that individual states have launched their own rules, investigations and lawsuits.
“Twitter, as a private company, only diminishes what little public accountability social media has as fiduciaries to the public,” tweeted Maya Zehavi, a tech entrepreneur.
Facebook’s parent company, Meta, is public, but founder Mark Zuckerberg has effective control over the company because of the shares he owns.
Critics have repeatedly argued that an obstacle to Facebook’s evolution beyond its reputation as a troubled but profitable social network is its leader’s ability to stay in power.
The idea of bringing currently state-owned Twitter into a structure that would concentrate power in Musk’s hands seemed contradictory to some.
It has been called the place of the city of the world for the exchange of ideas, and therefore a place where the right to speak is paramount.
“‘I have to buy and privatize the public place to save it!’ Try saying it out loud. Sounds ridiculous,” tweeted Renee DiResta, head of technical research at the Stanford Internet Observatory.