It’s been a chaotic couple of days, with Musk announcing he would join Twitter’s board after becoming the company’s largest shareholder — but then pulling out a single day later after suggesting sweeping changes he’d make to the platform.
During today’s TED event, we got a glimpse of what a Musk-run Twitter could look like, with Musk calling it an “inclusive arena for free speech,” void of the influences of corporations, politics, and advertisers.
His bid this morning — his “best and final offer” according to his Securities and Exchange Commission filing — to buy the social network for $43 billion wasn’t about the money or “monopolizing,” he argued at the TED event.
“I don’t care about the economics at all,” he said.
It’s the first time we’ve heard him speak publicly about his takeover plans. But while his comments aren’t exactly shocking, they do leave plenty of questions about his true intentions and long term plans for the company. To wit, is Musk simply trying to create a platform where speech is free only when it’s convenient to him?
At Thursday’s event, Musk rehashed some familiar talking points, arguing that the bid was all about embracing free speech on the platform as much as “reasonably possible” while still matching “the laws of the country” it’s operating in.
“I really want people to have the reality and perception that they are able to speak freely within he bounds of the law,” he told interviewer Chris Anderson during the event. Musk also argued that there should be “no sort of behind the scenes manipulation either algorithmically or manually.”
Of course, it’s not simply a matter of injecting more free speech into Twitter. As history has shown, creating a social media platform that’s open to all is far more difficult than that, and requires a careful balance of policy, moderation, and clear leadership.
Whether Musk will be able to provide the latter remains to be seen. For one, Musk seems to be primarily concerned about the kind of issues that affect him personally.
“A top priority I would have is limiting the spam and scam bots and the bot armies that are on Twitter,” he said at the event, adding that “they make the product much worse.”
Sure, they can be a huge hassle, but should it really be priority number one? And would that even be in line with his free speech goals?
“Elon proposes banning spam bots on Twitter which… hey did you know spam is not actually illegal under the First Amendment?” The Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel argued. “So he is writing a speech regulation because he doesn’t like the experience of other people’s speech.”
“It’s damn annoying when somebody you don’t like says something you don’t like,” a surprisingly lucid Musk admitted.
Running Twitter as a private company would be no cake walk, and Musk was the first person to admit that, telling Anderson that “everybody will still blame me for everything.”
Musk didn’t appear to have a cohesive long term plan for what to actually do if he does gain control of the company, apart from open sourcing the company’s algorithm and adding an edit button.
“There will be quite a few errors,” he said. “I hope it’s not too miserable.”
When asked about the role of human moderation when it comes to social media, Musk didn’t have much of a reply, either.
“I don’t personally want to be in there editing tweets,” he said laughing.
The ball is in the court of Twitter’s board now. The company’s leadership will now have to ruminate on whether they want to take Musk up on his offer.
When Anderson asked if Musk had a plan B in case the answer was no, Musk replied that “there is” — but pointedly didn’t expand on what that could look like.