Note: This is an opinion piece written by one of our staff at Digital Debut
Tesla CEO and world’s richest person Elon Musk has agreed to buy Twitter to the tune of USD $44 billion. Musk says that his primary aim of the acquisition was to make Twitter more aligned with the ideals of free speech, which Musk believes is the “bedrock of a functioning democracy”.
As an active Tweeter with a following of almost 90 million users, you can see why Musk might want to have a say in how the platform operates, especially when you consider the fact that his tweets can have a remarkable influence over share prices.
So, is Musk’s Twitter takeover the workings of a free speech warrior who believes in allowing people to pretty much say whatever they want in the global forum, or is it just another way for one of history’s richest people to continue their astronomical rise towards financial and historical immortality?
You would think it would be both, but there are numerous factors that go into this all-important question:
This all comes down to how Musk wants to run the platform. Musk has kept the world guessing with how he would like to run one of the world’s biggest open forums and whichever way he goes will have the ultimate impact on the platform’s revenue.
Musk has remained tight-lipped about numerous imperative operational aspects, including whether or not the platform will continue to run ads (Musk has openly said that the platform should not run ads, but whether he risks the financial burden remains to be seen) and just what kind of content will be allowed to run on the platform.
Musk believes that Twitter should no longer run ads in order to remain fully independent, which in turn would allow it to be the true haven of free speech that he stands for.
However, Musk would then have to find a way to fill the 98% of income that Twitter makes from, yep, advertising. There are numerous ways this could theoretically happen, and one of those ways is making Twitter employees (especially those in the ads department) increasingly worried about their jobs.
But don’t get him wrong, Musk does have a few ideas for how the platform could generate revenue, and one of his grand – albeit vague – plans is to make the platform subscription-based, ensuring that Twitter users pay a monthly fee to confirm that they are a real person and not some keyboard warrior bot.
This – alongside ideas like taking Twitter to private operation – are just a couple of the ways Musk could intend to make a profit once he has (potentially) cut almost 100% of the platform’s income. He is a very smart man, we are sure he has got it worked out.
Musk often expresses concerns about freedom of speech and its limitations in modern society. In March, Musk Tweeted a survey in which he asked his followers to respond to whether Twitter upholds values of free speech, adding a comment for followers to “please vote carefully” as the results will carry some future significance.
The results overwhelmingly concluded that followers don’t believe Twitter upholds the principle of freedom of speech, and flash forward just over a month it appears that these results are starting to show their weight, with Musk appearing to use them as leverage for his campaign to rid Twitter of the censorship that has turned so many people off it in recent years.
Musk says that he couldn’t care less about the deal’s financials and that he is working towards creating a “public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive”, but the risk of making the platform “broadly inclusive” is that it could easily include the wrong people, like those who use the platform to promote hate and condone violence on a global scale.
Freedom of speech, a democratic cornerstone you will find in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, has come a long way since its written inception in 1791.
But the notion of freedom of speech – that in which one can say what they feel without fear of retaliation or censorship – was a lot different in a non-globalised world, just as the idea that every man should have the right to bear arms was a lot different before the invention of submachine guns.
This presents an important ethical question regarding Musk’s plan: can you allow freedom of speech when it can be used to spread hate and condone acts of violence?
Social media has always been an effective tool for extremists of all creeds to spread hate and recruit like-minded people so where would Musk draw the line when it comes to the call for someone to, say, physically attack someone the Tweeter didn’t like?
This is the ultimate question in Musk’s Twitter takeover, and one that will provide a fascinating running debate as the saga continues.
Get some popcorn, strap in, and stay tuned!
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