It’s happened. South African-born tech billionaire, Elon Musk, has acquired Twitter for a whopping $44 billion.
The deal, which many have described as a “hostile takeover”, was finalised on Monday, effectively turning Twitter into a private company and giving Musk full control over the social media platform that had 338.6 million monthly global users in 2021. That’s relatively small, but Twitter enjoys an outsize influence among global leaders.
So why has the Tesla and SpaceX CEO boss decided to purchase one of the least successful social media platforms and what can we expect to materialise from this move?
The tech mogul says he wants to restore principles of free speech to the platform. But “freedom of speech” is a bit of a misnomer. As The Atlantic points out, conservatives are hoping this will mean a platform on which conservative speech is favoured and liberal speech receives less space. Conservatives have opposed several recent developments on Twitter, such as a crackdown on misinformation, most notably regarding anti-vax messaging and misinformation about Covid-19. The platform’s decision to ban former US President Donald Trump after the January 6 riots in which his supporters stormed the congress has also angered conservatives.
We think the censorship of harmful content and misinformation is a no-brainer, but many disagree: there’s been a right-wing exodus from the platform with many boycotting Twitter in favour of platforms that are “committed to free speech”, such as Gettr, Parler, and Donald Trump’s Truth Social. None of these new spaces has gained much traction. Could this hostile bid be a move to turn Twitter into the platform conservatives want?
Musk also has a shady track record of artificially inflating Tesla stock prices through his Twitter account, manipulating market reactions. In fact, Musk began acquiring Twitter shares on 31 January, but only announced his then-9.1% acquisition on 4 April, which led to its stock value experiencing its largest intraday surge since its IPO in 2013. This led to accusations of unethical practices.
It’s shoddy stuff from the Pretoria-born billionaire. Critics will watch his next move closely.