Elon Musk, free-speech absolutist, may be Trump’s Twitter ticket
Elon Musk has become Twitter’s largest shareholder, taking a 9.2 percent stake in the social media giant in a move that helped propel the perpetually-struggling stock up 25 percent on the day the news was announced.
Twitter also announced this past week that Musk, reportedly the second-richest person on the planet, would be joining the company’s board of directors. The decision by Musk to buy $2.64 billion in Twitter stock this year alone doesn’t appear to be strictly a business decision, however, but one more based in his libertarian values as they pertain to free speech.
“Through conversations with Elon in recent weeks, it became clear to us that he would bring great value to our Board,” Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal said in a welcome-to-the-company tweet.
“He’s both a passionate believer and intense critic of the service which is exactly what we need on Twitter, and in the boardroom, to make us stronger in the long-term,” he added.
Musk teased in another tweet that “significant improvements” were coming “in the coming months.” One of those improvements may be as simple as allowing users to edit their tweets. Musk created a poll this week on his Twitter account for his 85 million followers to weigh in on asking if an edit button is needed. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) said it is.
But another poll makes Musk’s latest move even more intriguing as it may involve a former president. The Tesla CEO asked this question: “Free speech is essential to a functioning democracy. Do you believe Twitter rigorously adheres to this principle?” More than 70 percent of the 2 million of his followers who voted said “no.”
“The consequences of this poll will be important. Please vote carefully,” Musk added in words that anticipated his purchasing of a stake in Twitter just days later.
Former President Trump, once a prolific tweeter (often to his own detriment) was banned from the platform in January 2021 shortly after the Capitol riot. Twitter, of course, allows some of the world’s worst actors to have active Twitter accounts, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the Taliban and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei — but the former U.S. president apparently had to go.
Trump has since been largely off the radar, save for the occasional rally or television interview. In February, Trump launched his own version of Twitter, Truth Social, which has experienced technical and staff problems and hasn’t made the big splash the ex-president likely hoped it would. Trump himself, curiously, has posted only once on the platform since it launched. And, just last week, two top executives, Josh Adams and Billy Boozer, who served as chief technology officer and the head of product development, respectively, resigned from the company.
So, if Musk were to influence Twitter’s board sufficiently and Trump eventually is given a “Get-Out-Of-Twitter-Jail-Free” card, would Trump ditch his own flailing venture and join his first social-media love?
According to those close to the 45th president, there’s a better chance than not that he is running for president in 2024. For Trump, social media platforms such as Twitter are key to his ability to bypass the traditional media filter to speak directly to the public whenever he wishes.
Free speech is the whole ballgame here, particularly in light of the New York Times and Washington Post finally getting around to verifying that the email and other contents of Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop did indeed belong to him. The New York Post broke the laptop story 17 months ago, but that bombshell was dismissed as “Russian disinformation” by most major media outlets, including the Times, the Washington Post, CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS and NPR.
The “Russian disinformation” angle came courtesy of 51 former intelligence officers, including former CIA Director John Brennan (currently employed by NBC) and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (currently with CNN), who wrote in an open letter shortly before the 2020 presidential election that the laptop was the result of Russian disinformation.
Social media, including most notably Twitter, not only dismissed the story but censored it. The New York Post’s Twitter account was locked, along with those of then-White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and the Trump campaign itself, simply for sharing the New York Post story.
For now, Twitter is sticking to its guns on its decision to ban Trump permanently regardless of Musk’s new stake in the company and position on its board.
“Our policy decisions are not determined by the Board or shareholders, and we have no plans to reverse any policy decisions,” the company said earlier this week.
Some Twitter employees aren’t happy about the Tesla CEO joining the board, so much so that CEO Agrawal announced an “ask me anything” session in an effort to pacify anxiety over bringing in someone who is a self-described free speech absolutist.
These employees, per the Washington Post, “have expressed worries that the firebrand Musk could inflict damage to the company’s culture, as well as make it harder for people to do their jobs.”
Think about the language here: Musk may “inflict damage to the company’s culture” — a “culture” that has freely embraced censorship while shunning due process. If Musk is a threat to that, it’s a good thing.
According to a recent survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, just 10 percent of Americans surveyed believe social media has had a mostly positive impact on the country, while two-thirds say it’s had a mostly negative impact.
One big aspect of the negative impact is the assault on free speech and the inconsistent rules enforced based on party or ideology.
Elon Musk can help change that. Money talks — and given that Musk has more of it than just about anybody on the planet, the safe bet is that whatever Musk wants on Twitter, Musk ultimately will get.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist.
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.