What could Twitter look like under Elon Musk?
Elon Musk’s history on Twitter could bring extra scrutiny of the social media site just as stricter rules around online content are coming into force, experts have said.
The billionaire Tesla and SpaceX boss has proposed buying “100% of Twitter for $54.20 per share in cash”, valuing the company at 41.39 billion dollars (£31.58 billion).
Mr Musk – a prominent user of the service – is well known for his belief in absolute free speech and has suggested he does not think Twitter is living up to its principles on the issue.
However, it has been suggested that in an age of increasingly polarised discourse online and intense scrutiny from legislators over social media needing to do more to protect users from harmful content while avoiding outright censorship, a change of Twitter policy instigated by Mr Musk to loosen rules around speech on the site could create more problems for the company.
One expert said that Mr Musk’s own history of tweeting could hamper the delicate balancing act of content moderation Twitter is currently engaged in.
“Sowing the seeds of championing ‘free speech’ is one thing, but let’s not forget Elon’s view of simply voicing opinion has been seen as reckless by regulators in the past,” Dan Lane, senior analyst at investment and stock trading app Freetrade, said.
Mr Musk has previously run into problems with US regulators at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over his own tweets, having been accused of breaching trading rules when tweeting about his business interests.
He has also been accused of tweeting misinformation about Covid-19 after posting in March 2020 that children were “essentially immune” to the disease.
Mr Musk’s attitude to free speech is shared by the likes of Donald Trump and a number of other right-wing political figures who have had their accounts suspended for violating Twitter content rules but claim they have been the victims of censorship.
Some believe a Musk takeover could mean a return to the platform for Mr Trump and others, but reinstating those users would be a highly controversial move and could bring further scrutiny to the company and its approach to moderation, just as major new regulation for the sector is on the horizon.
The headlines might inject a bit of life into Twitter’s share price but it could mean SEC scrutiny bleeds over from Musk’s mere use of the platform to the platform itself
In the UK, the Online Safety Bill is currently moving through Parliament and proposes to place strict new rules on platforms, compelling them to stop their users being exposed to harmful and dangerous content, with large fines, blocking access to sites and even criminal liability for named managers among the proposed penalties for offending platforms.
“The headlines (around a takeover bid) might inject a bit of life into Twitter’s share price but it could mean SEC scrutiny bleeds over from Musk’s mere use of the platform to the platform itself. That’s not something the firm will want hanging over it,” Mr Lane added, while also suggesting that having control of an online space such as Twitter in the hands of one man could pose further problems.
He said: “There’s also the question of where this all fits in with Musk’s broader portfolio. Unlocking value is clearly the goal here but is it just a vanity project?
“The whole thing isn’t that different to how the media organisations of old came to be mouthpieces for their owners. Musk might not have ambitions to peddle political views on Twitter but the point here is that he would ultimately have the power to do so if he takes it private and makes whatever changes he likes.”
Mr Musk’s actions since buying a 9% stake in Twitter at the beginning of April – which have seen it be announced that he was joining the company’s board only for Mr Musk to choose not to days later – have also been described by one expert as a demonstration that he should not be given control of the company.
Mike Rhodes, chief executive of mobile marketing firm ConsultMyApp, said: “It would be plain ridiculous for Twitter to accept this offer and place itself in the hands of someone who has demonstrated his sporadic nature in the past two weeks.”
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