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In what is being seen as significant victory for free speech, Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, has reached a deal to purchase Twitter for $44 billion and turn it into a private company.
Early Monday, Musk, who describes himself as a “free speech absolutist,” hinted that a deal was forthcoming by letting his 83 million followers know that he sees the future as one of dissent. He tweeted, “I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means.”
Then, shortly after the news broke, Musk put out a more in-depth statement in which he discussed his plans to improve the platform. “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” he said. “I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans. Twitter has tremendous potential — I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it.”
Twitter board president Bret Taylor also put out a statement, saying, “The Twitter Board conducted a thoughtful and comprehensive process to assess Elon’s proposal with a deliberate focus on value, certainty, and financing. The proposed transaction will deliver a substantial cash premium, and we believe it is the best path forward for Twitter’s stockholders.”
Musk purchased 9.2 percent of Twitter shares in late March and agreed to serve as a board member, but soon thereafter he rejected that position and announced a jaw-dropping offer to buy the entire company for $54.20 per share, a 38 percent premium over the company’s value. Twitter executives and many shareholders, including Prince Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia, initially resisted the takeover, with Twitter even suggesting it would implement a “poison pill” maneuver that would have allowed existing shareholders to purchase more shares at a lower price, effectively diluting Musk’s percentage and hopefully making it prohibitively expensive for one person to purchase.
But last week, Musk announced exactly how he planned to finance the deal, which forced Twitter’s board of directors to more seriously entertain the offer.
Under the terms of the deal, Musk will pay $44 billion and Twitter will go from being a publicly traded company to a private one. That would make it the most expensive acquisition since British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca took over Alexion Pharmaceuticals in 2021 for an estimated $40 billion. By comparison, Facebook purchased social media site Instagram for $1 billion in 2019 and Microsoft purchased LinkedIn for $28.1 billion in 2016.
Twitter has been under fire for some time for its so-called content moderation standards and policies, banning, suspending, or shadow-banning conservative and dissenting users who flout the approved narrative on such topics as COVID, transgenderism, and election integrity. Those thrown off temporarily or permanently include President Donald Trump, the New York Post, the Babylon Bee, Tucker Carlson, vaccine critic Alex Berenson, Sen. Rand Paul, Dr. Robert Malone, and Libs of Tik Tok, among many, many others. In the meantime, the Taliban spokesperson, the mullahs of Iran, and the president of the Russian Federation were allowed to keep their accounts, despite frequently sending violent threats and engaging in truly violent activity.
Musk has said he would make the company’s algorithms and content moderation decisions more transparent, allow users to edit their tweets, eliminate spam bots, and open up Twitter’s blue check verification process to more users so the authenticity of accounts can be determined more easily.
The reaction to the news was immediate, with conservatives celebrating their contention that Twitter will once again be a platform for the free exchange of ideas and rigorous and transparent political debate.
Tyler Winklevoss tweeted. “Funding secured. @elonmusk buys Twitter. It’s confirmed. Congratulations. A great day for free speech.”
Others hoped that with new leadership there would be a reckoning for old leadership. Buck Sexton tweeted: “Elon should make public all of the shadow banning and rigged game nonsense the libs have been pulling for the last 10 years Radical transparency is the best antidote to their authoritarianism And would allow for a real restart.”
Those on the left decried the move, claiming that Musk’s acquisition was a threat to democracy and would lead to a rise in fascism. Jennifer Mercieca, a professor in the Department of Communication at Texas A&M University and a self-described historian of American political rhetoric, weighed in with, “When an oligarch buys a communication platform to distribute rightwing propaganda that’s not democracy.”
A large number of journalists and progressive activists threatened to leave Twitter. These included New York Times columnist and MSNBC contributor Charles Blow, who wrote in part: “Well, I’m out…. At some point Twitter may have been a town square of ideas. It’s not that now. Now it’s a cesspool of bots, screamers, conspiracists, and the perpetually angry. Very little is gained by engaging, and too much is lost.”
Many on the left were less worried about Musk’s plans for the platform outside of their myopic feat that he would immediately reinstate Trump. Hollywood actor and director Rob Reiner tweeted, “Now that Elon Musk is buying Twitter, the question for all of us is: Will he allow a Criminal who used this platform to lie and spread disinformation to try to overthrow the US Government to return and continue his Criminal activity? And if he does, how do we combat it?”
For his part, former President Trump has already publicly stated that he has no plans to return to Twitter. Instead, he will be opening an account on his own social media platform, Truth Social, in the coming days.
To say this is a win for free speech is underselling it. Musk calls himself a free speech absolutist and was willing to spend tens of billions in order to remedy the problem of censorship on Twitter. His comment about hoping his critics stay on Twitter shows how much stronger his understanding of free speech is than those who believe that content moderation and censorship is necessary and that holding dissenting and even outlandish opinions is hateful, violent, and dangerous.
Critics are quick to point out that Musk has blocked people on Twitter before and thus is not a free speech champion. This is a misunderstanding of free speech. Blocking people from interacting with you on social media isn’t a violation of free speech. On a platform that tolerates dissenting opinions, those people would free to say whatever they want and their tweets would still be seen by others, but that doesn’t mean everyone has to personally interact with them.
Internet censorship and the manipulation of public debate is one of the top issues facing our world. Musk should be praised for putting his money on the line in order to help save our foundational principle of freedom of speech. Without it, we cannot be a truly free society.