Twitter’s board has approved a deal allowing Elon Musk to buy the company and take it private, in alarming news for anyone who doesn’t want a major social media platform controlled by an egomaniacal billionaire ranting about free speech while his signature company is being sued for racial discrimination.
Musk’s initial offer/threat to buy Twitter drew skepticism, but talks turned serious after he made progress in lining up financing, though it’s not yet a done deal and could—especially given who we’re talking about here—fall apart, perhaps in spectacular fashion. [EDITORIAL UPDATE: On Monday Twitter's board unanimously approved a $44 billion buyout by Musk.]
Musk has claimed he wants to turn Twitter into a “platform for free speech around the globe,” but basically every expert on social media and speech says he has no clue what he’s talking about. The major social media companies, including Twitter, have invested a lot of time and money into figuring out what works, and while no one’s saying they’ve perfected it, the likelihood that Elon Musk can manifest a better answer directly from his ego is low.
”What Musk seemingly fails to recognize is that to truly have free speech today, you need moderation,” Katie Harbath, a former Facebook executive, told The Washington Post. “Otherwise, just those who bully and harass will be left as they will drive others away.”
”A platform that allows people to spam misogynist and racist abuse is unsafe for pretty much anyone else and would lose advertisers, corporate partners and sponsors rapidly, leaving it a commercially unviable husk within months,” said the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate’s Imran Ahmed.
Speaking of racist abuse, Musk’s signature company, Tesla, lost one racism discrimination lawsuit, with an initial judgment of $137 million recently reduced to $15 million. Other Black employees describe a horrifyingly, overtly racist environment at Tesla’s California plant, spurring a major discrimination lawsuit by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. That’s important context for Musk’s “free speech” talk. This is someone who presided over a company at which Black employees are assigned particularly difficult work in a section of the factory referred to as “the plantation,” a Black worker was fired after complaining that a supervisor called him and other Black workers “monkeys,” and use of the N-word was “the norm. It was Tesla’s tradition.”
Another interesting piece of context for Musk’s effort to buy Twitter is that in 2018, he had to step down as Tesla’s chair and paid $40 million in penalties ($20 million from himself and $20 million from Tesla) after—in a fascinating precursor to his current effort—he used tweets to claim he was taking Tesla private, causing “significant market disruption.”
Over the weekend, Musk continued to use his own high-profile Twitter account to show the kind of chaos he likes to bring to the platform, attacking Bill Gates with a crude, fat-shaming graphic, and suggesting that his hyperloop would work better than other forms of transportation because “Underground tunnels are immune to surface weather conditions (subways are a good example), so it wouldn’t matter to Hyperloop if a hurricane was raging on the surface. You wouldn’t even notice.” This howler drew a flood of responses with pictures of subway stations flooded after hurricanes or even just major rainstorms. The guy never lets not knowing what he’s talking about stop him from saying it through a huge megaphone.
Twitter may announce a deal with Musk as soon as Monday, though it could fall apart even after a public announcement.
Printed with permission from DailyKos.