Elon Musk, who bought a share of Twitter for $ 3 billion, undermines his campaign for free speech

A few days ago, Elon Musk asked his 81 million followers:Twitter is dying?

Musk calls himself “absolutist of free speech– against any restrictions on what someone can say online – and he indicated that he believes the social media platform is moving in the wrong direction on this issue. Musk, as the CEO of two large public companies, has faced backlash and even legal repercussions for his impulsive tweets that misled investors and caused his companies’ stock prices to fluctuate.

He is now Twitter’s largest shareholder after purchasing a 9.2% stake in the company. The move sparked speculation about why Musk bought such a large stake and what the future holds for Twitter. After Musk returned, he plans join the company’s board of directors This was announced by Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal over the weekend. company note that the decision was “for the better”, and urged employees to “turn off the noise” surrounding the recent changes.

But it’s hard to ignore Elon Musk, which highlights his influence as a famed tech entrepreneur and the richest man in the world. Judging by his recent tweets, Musk suggests that he will try to use his stake in Twitter to turn it into an absolute bastion of unfettered communication. On March 25, before his investment was known, he created a twitter poll asking whether the platform “strictly adheres to” the principle of free speech. His audience overwhelmingly voted against. The next day he tweeted“Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public square, failure to uphold the principles of free speech fundamentally undermines democracy. What should be done?”

It looks like the big discovery he was aiming for was that he spent about $3 billion buying shares affect how the site should work. Musk has shown his newfound power after his bet went public last week. another poll“Want an edit button?”

The Power Musk Doesn’t Talk About

Musk seemed to portray his mission as a noble one—not for narrow self-serving purposes, but for the people. It will make the social media platform less constrained by rules and provide its users with the features they have long wanted. However, at the heart of this saga is the fact that he has his own complaints about what he sees as the limitations of his speech. And unlike most people on earth, Musk can get the attention of Twitter with a tiny fraction of his time. 250 billion dollars of wealth; billionaires like him have a shortcut to being the loudest voice in any room. Even before becoming a major shareholder of Twitter, he had a huge presence on the platform as one of the most followed accounts and enjoyed an almost mythical status as a genius innovator in Silicon Valley. So it’s hard to imagine that the purchase of Twitter adheres to any democratic principles.

“[Twitter] is a global platform,” said David Kay, UC Irvine law professor and former UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression. “So for someone with a lot of money to just come in and say, ‘Look, I’m going to buy a part of this company, and so my vote on how your rules are made and enforced is going to have a lot of power.’ than anyone else” – I think this is a regression after many years [Twitter] trying to set reasonable rules.”

What makes Musk’s status even more exceptional is that Twitter’s other largest shareholders fund managers such as Vanguard Group and BlackRockand not individuals. And now that Musk no longer plans to sit on Twitter’s board of directors, he’s also not banned from buying a majority stake in the company. At least he can threaten to do so. That’s the kind of tacit power Musk can buy.

So what exactly does Musk disagree with when it comes to Twitter’s policy on speech? In recent years, amid a pandemic that has highlighted the life and death stakes of disinformation, as well as political chaos and violence fueled by election misinformation, Twitter has taken a more proactive approach to content moderation, flagging misleading tweets and even deleting them. in some cases. “Twitter has moved away from this idea of ​​being the free speech wing of the free speech party and a more realistic guardian of speech on the platform,” Kay said.

The most notorious example of this shift is the removal of former President Donald Trump after he issued a series of tweets supporting violence and disinformation in connection with the 2020 presidential election. But Musk hasn’t spoken publicly about Trump’s ban. To date, Twitter itself has not interfered with any of Musk’s tweets.

Musk’s real free speech agony is with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, in a battle over what he, as the public face of a large public company like Tesla, can or cannot say to investors. In 2018, the SEC filed a complaint against Musk after he tweeted that he had Funding secured to take Tesla private – that’s why investors are currently suing him, stating that this claim is untrue. and that they lost money as a result of fluctuating Tesla stock prices after he tweeted. Musk reached an agreement with the SEC, paying a $20 million fine, and was banned from serving as chairman of Tesla for three years. Importantly, the settlement also required internal review of Musk’s tweets when they related to company information.

But while Musk is back as chairman, and even a $20 million fine doesn’t matter to such a wealthy man, it’s clear he’s still worried about the SEC’s restrictions on tweets. In early March, Musk filed a lawsuit. asks to terminate the SEC agreement, saying that he was forced to agree to it. The letter his lawyer wrote to the judge who presided over the settlement argued that the SEC decision “persecution” Mask was “calculated to cool his exercise of his First Amendment rights”.

Free speech advocates disagree. “He has unlimited access to the media; he has unlimited access to any platform he wants,” said Kay. “He is not a victim in any way, shape or form. He is a public voice, almost unimaginable in the absence of restrictions compared to almost any other person on the planet.

Musk could also face new SEC scrutiny for delays revealing its nearly 10 percent share of Twitter; documents show that he regularly buying Twitter shares from the end of January. Musk was supposed to disclose information within 10 days of crossing the 5 percent threshold, but he disclosed 11 days after his deadline. “It’s not just about filing late,” said John C. Coffey, a Columbia University law professor who described the delay itself as a misdemeanor like a pedestrian crossing, “but also that it misled shareholders who could buy and , of course, could sell at a higher price if this information were disclosed. Those who sold can sue in a securities class action lawsuit for lost profits.”

Being responsible for what you say when you are in a leadership position that comes with responsibility and obligation and can harm others is not the same as censoring your speech. “He had to admit that his statements about his plans for Twitter needed to be approved or at least disclosed to management,” Coffey said, noting that Musk had a habit of making “reckless statements that were not verified.”

In other words, the problem seems to be that Musk is unable or unwilling to realize how much freedom and power he actually has to speak. Anyone with Internet access can tweet, but what sets billionaires like Musk apart is that they can use their money to have a bigger impact on the world. who will win the electionwhat kinds laws are passedor even how we should deal with the pandemic. And when you are a public figure with millions of followers on Twitter, even a simple answer can cause criticism. a stream of persecution on their way.

Real Dangers to Free Speech

Perhaps Musk’s current free speech crusade is only semi-serious. Maybe it’s just a way to mock the SEC. But whatever his real motives, his tenacity to be a billionaire proponent of online advertising has a genuine impact that undermines his complaints that his First Amendment rights have been chilled.

“It’s very distracting,” said Evan Greer, director Fight for the future, a non-profit organization that advocates for digital rights. “Frankly, it’s a pity that people like Elon Musk, who are mostly trolling [the free speech] question, confused him so much because I think it actually led to some really harmful notions.” Some progressives have come to regard “free speech” as a sordid topic, she said, involving people who want to incite hatred or privileged people who just scream about their voices being suppressed.

“The reality is that freedom of speech is in danger. Laws are now being passed across the country criminalizing teachers for teaching, banning books, criminalizing parents for providing medical care to their children,” Greer said.

“If we have to worry about what Elon Musk thinks about content moderation, we already have a problem,” Greer continued. “Too few companies have too much power over what can be seen, heard and done online, and the fact that the richest person on Earth can simply buy the power to influence our online discourse shows that we have a fundamental structural problem. with the way social networks are currently organized.”

In one move, Musk gained influence over an important shared online space — what he called the “de facto public plaza.” This means that as long as you continue to use Twitter, you will have to listen to it in some measure. What will Musk do as Twitter’s most important shareholder? Will it adhere to any standards of public transparency regarding how it will influence the platform? We just don’t know yet. But the danger is that Musk doesn’t have much to reveal.

Musk’s Twitter share shows how the super-rich seem to feel about influence: You can buy it, and there’s no shame in it, even if your sheer volume risks drowning others out.

In a recent Washington Post article, former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao argued that Musk’s acquisition of influence on Twitter was unfair to the hundreds of millions of users who do not have such access. “We need to regulate social media platforms so rich people don’t control our communication channels,” she wrote.

Kay believes Twitter is trying to make room for diversity of opinion by taking a tougher stance against speech that harms and intimidates people, and the kind of absolute, unrestricted speech Musk seems to be calling for is a fantasy that will only haunt of people. from the platform.

“No one who acts in good faith really wants Twitter to be a cesspool,” Kay said. “It’s just absurd. Honestly, this is going to kill Twitter.”

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