If you’ve been active on the internet in the last few years, it’s likely you know who Elon Musk is — billionaire, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, entrepreneur, investor. And it’s also likely you know that Elon Musk is a very active Twitter user. In fact, Musk bought a 9.2% stake in Twitter, worth about $2.89 billion at the time and there were even plans to appoint him to the Twitter board of directors. Instead of joining the directors, he filed to buy the platform in its entirety, at $43 billion.
The situation was met with a lot of controversies. A lot of people felt apprehensive about the fact that Elon Musk owned Twitter shares, and even more so when he suggested buying Twitter in its entirety — but why? What are the implications of Elon Musk potentially owning Twitter and what does it say about social media, billionaires, and the media landscape?
What are Elon Musk’s plans with Twitter?
Elon Musk believes the company “will neither thrive nor serve this societal imperative in its current form.” He believes he can unlock the potential of Twitter, and the platform needs a transformation and that is something he’s capable of doing. Specifically, Musk said he wants Twitter to become a private company.
He suggested some changes to the social media platform including adding an edit function to tweets and changing Twitter Blue, the subscription service of Twitter. Since Elon Musk’s appointment to the Twitter board and as the biggest shareholder of the company, Twitter has said they will consider his input in the running of the company.
The thing is, Musk’s rants, suggestions, and business offers, are very much unsolicited advice that no one on Twitter asked for. Yet, he still pushes for change in these platforms.
Billionaires in the Media Industry
Elon Musk is pretty famous for his controversial opinions, questionable business practices, and strong presence on Twitter — he’s like the Donald Trump of corporate tech. He even comes with a large group of followers who have this weird devotion to him.
His situation with Twitter is not the first of its kind. Billionaires are owning more and more of the media landscape, like Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post, Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation in the US, and Silvio Berlusconi and Mediaset in Italy. So, why are people reacting so negatively against Musk’s bid for Twitter? There are a couple of answers to this.
The Double-edged Sword: Freedom of Speech and Censorship
Social media has become a very important form of communication. While media companies have the right and authority to run their platform in the way they want, it becomes difficult to have real free speech when so much communication occurs in a space controlled by private organizations and people.
On one hand, it’s very easy to argue that social media platforms censor Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk if they deny them from sharing their opinions on the platform. However, having the richest people on the planet own most forms of media will inevitably result in biased news, discussions, and narratives in their favour.
Free speech is essential to a functioning democracy.
Do you believe Twitter rigorously adheres to this principle?
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 25, 2022
Concentrated media ownership results in the domination of the media landscape by a small group of conglomerates and wealthy individuals. This means less diverse political, social, and cultural points of view, a risk of lower media integrity, and most drastically, the elimination of press and media freedom. With Twitter under his belt, Elon Musk could freely influence aspects of the platform like the algorithm and community guidelines.
His ownership could potentially cause filter bubbles, echo chambers, or blur the lines between hate speech, propaganda, or just a regular, old opinion. Of course, this would be the case regardless of who owned Twitter but this also comes down to whether or not Twitter users want the platform run by a billionaire who has questionable motives and controversial views on cryptocurrency, the COVID-19 pandemic, and artificial intelligence.
Capitalistic, economy-driven societies greatly influence who is allowed to have a voice and who is left at the periphery.
At the end of the day, it seems as though Elon Musk’s only interest in buying Twitter is for a stake in media control and not necessarily for the benefit of the platform and its users. As the richest man in the world, he can just buy the platform at the drop of a hat regardless of whether anyone actually wants that or if he has valuable ideas for Twitter. Capitalistic, economy-driven societies greatly influence who is allowed to have a voice and who is left at the periphery. It just prioritizes and rewards people like Elon Musk over average citizens.
Cover image: Unsplash
Edited by: Debby Mogot