By Riley Eisenbeil
Twitter announced on April 25 that Elon Musk had acquired the company for $44 billion after emphasizing in his offer letter to Twitter chairman Bret Taylor that the company has the “potential to be the platform for free speech around the globe.”
Just a few weeks ago, Musk took a 9.2% stake in Twitter — making him the company’s largest shareholder and arguably, their biggest fan.
However, because of this passion for Twitter, he has also found himself in trouble on countless occasions.
Just a few years ago towards the end of 2018, Musk was charged with securities fraud for a series of “false and misleading tweets about a potential transaction to take Tesla private,” as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said in their press release.
He tweeted to his 22 million followers — at the time — saying that the transaction to take Tesla private was secured and that he was only waiting for a shareholder vote. This was all a lie. He had not discussed specifics with any financing partners and reportedly knew that the transaction was uncertain.
After this, Musk agreed to have Tesla’s lawyers pre-approve any written communications that would be posted. The SEC came back in both 2019 and 2020 to say that Musk violated this again by tweeting false information that had not been approved.
Now that Musk owns the platform, he is able to make up his own rules and essentially create loopholes for his wrongdoings.
“The fact that this happens after he finally starts getting flack for all the nonsense he spouts on Twitter, it’s clearly in an attempt to flaunt some sort of power,” said Zayn Khalil, a sophomore business management major. “While it’s not necessarily illegal it just isn’t right for someone who has that kind of wealth to buy a social media platform to make a point.”
Another worry that many people are questioning under the ownership of the self-described “free speech absolutist” himself is about the possible reactivation of Donald Trump’s Twitter along with all of the hate speech that will make its way back to the platform after being so consciously monitored.
“I saw that there was some concern from minority communities at the things that others may be allowed to say now/the types of people that can use the app again, so that’s something to keep our eyes on,” said Matthew Rotindo, a freshman business management major.
Rotindo was talking about groups that Donald Trump or other right leaning Twitter users had been affecting with their hate speech comments on the platform.
One example of minoritized groups in danger after Musk’s purchase are transgender and transsexual people. The community uses Twitter as a space to engage with other trans people despite the lack of enforcement around transphobia from Twitter’s team.
“Pronouns suck,” tweeted Musk on July 24, 2020.
Clearly, with Musk taking over, there is no question that this can only get worse for transgender folks and other minoritized groups.
On top of his ignorance to pronouns, he has also posted sexist jokes and Covid-19 misinformation.
While trying to find these tweets to link to this article, I was met with, “Hmm...this page doesn’t exist.” This is because the tweets were deemed as inappropriate or false so they were deleted — well, yes, that makes sense; these tweets don’t have a place online.
Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of legal, policy and trust, played a large role in banning former President Donald Trump from Twitter and in the moderation of Twitter content and has not taken Musk’s new ownership lightly.
On Monday when Musk officially bought Twitter, Gadde cried in a public meeting discussing his acquisition and what was to come. She focused on how proud she was of her team and urged them to keep thriving to do great things at Twitter while making sure she noted that there were, “significant uncertainties about what the company will look like under Musk’s leadership.”
Gadde is not the only one who is worried for the future of the platform though. Twitter has reported that many high profile accounts, of mostly left-leaning politicians and activists, have lost thousands of followers.
It is reported that users like Michelle Obama, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have each lost over 10,000 followers overnight due to “organic” account closures meaning that the users intentionally deleted their own accounts.
“I feel like it’s not good that an exorbitantly rich egoist that claimed he would contribute $6 billion to solve world hunger and reneged on that promise can decide to buy Twitter for $44 billion,” said Khalil, clearly angered by Musk’s new ownership.
The fact that the richest man in the world has the sole power to redefine Twitter is not only terrifying, but also extremely off putting with the uncertainty that follows Musk’s purchase.
One Twitter user agreed with this sentiment when posting, “how come musks money isn't real money when he's supposed to pay taxes but it's real money when he wants to use it to buy twitter.”
We are all unsure of what is to come with this new ownership, but to say the least it’s sure going to be interesting.