April 5, 2022

Elon Musk’s Free Speech Stake in Twitter

The world’s richest man just became the biggest single shareholder in the social media giant.

The systemic redlining of free speech may be the biggest threat to Liberty in America today. Big Tech companies are the most prolific violators of this basic civil right. Having become the “public square,” they then decide via bogus “fact-checkers” and other nebulous “community standards” what can and can’t be said in the public square. Somehow, the playing field always seems tilted heavily against conservatives.

Well, Twitter has a new factor to consider: Elon Musk. The eccentric Tesla and SpaceX owner, Time Magazine’s 2021 “Person of the Year,” and the world’s richest man ($273 billion net worth) just disclosed that he is now Twitter’s single largest stockholder. Not long after saying he was “giving serious thought” to starting his own social media platform, Musk purchased 73.5 million Twitter shares valued at $2.9 billion, or a 9.2% stake. He is also taking a spot on the company’s board in exchange for a cap of 14.9% ownership. Twitter stock soared 27% Monday, earning Musk another $784 million in value, though he doesn’t need the money and that’s not why he bought in.

His Monday tweet: “Oh hi lol.”

Musk is not seeking to take control of Twitter, but he’s never passive about anything. He’s also an advocate of free speech, and he’s tweeted about it more than once to his 80 million followers.

“Free speech is essential to a functioning democracy,” he said in March, just 11 days before his stock purchase. “Do you believe Twitter rigorously adheres to this principle?” More than 70% of respondents answered correctly: No, Twitter does not adhere to this principle.

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In a series of tweets following this poll, Musk made a statement and then posed more questions: “Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy. What should be done? Is a new platform needed?”

This must be giving Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal serious heartburn, despite his public welcome of “passionate believer and intense critic” Musk to the board. You see, Agrawal finds free speech to be distasteful and problematic, and he’s become an even more ruthless suppressor of speech he doesn’t like than was his predecessor, Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey. In 2020, a year before Agrawal took control, he asserted that Twitter should “focus less” on free speech.

“Our role is not to be bound by the First Amendment,” said Agrawal, “but our role is to serve a healthy public conversation and our moves are reflective of things that we believe lead to a healthier public conversation.” He added, “The times have changed.” Two months later, Twitter banned President Donald Trump.

The times keep changing, too. The Babylon Bee and numerous other conservatives were recently locked out of their Twitter accounts for saying that one particular man is a man, not a woman. In fact, a huge part of censorship these days involves “wrongthink” about the gender confused.

Musk has previous said: “Wokeness … is a prevalent mind virus and arguably one of the biggest threats to modern civilization. So, do we want a humorless, a society that is simply rife with condemnation and hate basically? At its heart, wokeness is divisive, exclusionary and hateful. It basically gives mean people a reason, it gives them a shield to be mean and cruel, armored in false virtue.”

No bones about it, Musk’s ascension within Twitter poses a serious challenge to the company’s power brokers and censors. Musk controls nearly a tenth of the company, and he can routinely tell his 80 million followers about the virtues of free speech. Will the company stop him? Will Twitter censors start shadow-banning him the way they do other conservative voices? In other words, will they let him keep his account but not show his tweets to most of his followers? That’s how social media giants have been suppressing a lot of speech they don’t like.

More Americans — and, more importantly, Twitter users — find Big Tech’s anti-free speech stance to be a big problem. Musk gives us not only a voice but an ally at the top.

Update 4/11: Musk announced over the weekend that he would not, after all, take a seat on Twitter’s board. “I believe this is for the best,” said Agrawal. We certainly hope so, and not in the way Agrawal means. If we had to guess, we’d say maybe Musk didn’t want to limit himself to 14.9% ownership in exchange for that board seat.

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