Eccentric billionaire Elon Musk – founder of electric car maker Tesla and aerospace manufacturer SpaceX, considered a visionary by many - has already for years been using Twitter as his personal playground. His short, sometimes seemingly innocuous and even meaningless tweets to his 86 million-plus followers, have sent prices of various stocks and cryptocurrencies swinging on many occasions.
For instance, just putting up a picture of his pet dog, a Shiba Inu puppy, sent soaring the price of a crypto token of the same name. And any time he said anything about Tesla accepting, or not accepting, bitcoin as payment, the price of both the company’s stock and the crypto would go on a bit of a rollercoaster ride.
But despite the power he wields on the platform, he wasn’t content with Twitter and clearly believes it has a lot more potential – that’s why he has decided to buy it for some $44 billion (not a bad deal for someone whose net worth is estimated to be $260 billion.)
Over the years, Musk has voiced many issues – for starters, he doesn’t like the way Twitter moderates content. He believes it stifles free speech, and many think he could allow suspended accounts back on the platform – the most controversial among them would be that of a certain infamous former US president.
How he intends to change the business model and generate revenue also remains a question because not only has he said in the past he would like to get rid of advertisements on Twitter's premium subscription service Twitter Blue (Twitter currently relies on ads for about almost all its revenue) he may also end up alienating some of its advertisers.
“The challenge will be maintaining and building revenue given that the controversial opinions he hopes to give more of a free rein to are often unpalatable to advertisers” said Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown, in an emailed statement.
She pointed out that “while injecting growth into this new social media boxing ring, and proving it is worth more than its $44 billion price tag, is going to be an extremely hard slog in the months and years ahead,” it could well be the case that his primary motivation isn’t money at all, but promoting free speech. But where does that leave Twitter?
Jack Dorsey, one of Twitter’s founders, seems to be on board with the takeover, going as far as to say: “Elon is the singular solution I trust” but with the disclaimer that: “In principle, I don’t believe anyone should own or run Twitter. It wants to be a public good at a protocol level, not a company.”
He said, “Twitter as a company has always been my sole issue and my biggest regret. It has been owned by Wall Street and the ad model. Taking it back from Wall Street is the correct first step", referring to the fact that the company will go private once the deal is complete.
One thing Dorsey might not be too happy about: if Musk decides to add an edit button. The ability to edit a tweet once it’s been posted is the most asked-for feature on the platform. But Dorsey in a recent interview when asked if this would be introduced had categorically said no, for the obvious complications this can cause.
However, Musk, in a Twitter poll earlier this month, (Musk loves Twitter polls), asked his followers if they wanted an edit button - a resounding 73.6% said yes.
Musk may also make Twitter’s algorithm open-source and want to tackle the issue of “the spam and scam bots and the bot armies” that exist on the platform.
However, the issue of free speech remains the most controversial potential change.
No social media has managed to completely perfect promoting free speech while moderating dangerous and hate speech. As Jeffrey Howard, associate professor at University College London told BBC, there is a certain danger to what Musk wants to do.
"I think Elon Musk is relatively naïve on the actual challenges involved in content moderation. He will learn as a result of this you cannot simply have a laissez-faire approach to content management,” he said, adding that Twitter could be "easily weaponised" and used "malicious purposes" and to "incite hate and violence."
Musk recently clarified (on Twitter) that by free speech, he means "that which matches the law. I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law. If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people."
Meanwhile, Dominic O’Meara, the founder and CEO of a new social network called Supernova, said in an emailed statement: “If Elon’s real motivation is controlling the public narrative to the benefit of his world-striding empire, then this move is just the modern version of ‘business tycoon buys newspaper’.”
At the same time, he said he was concerned Musk might "allow the darkest side of human nature to let rip".
Earlier this month, when Musk had joined Twitter’s board Streeter had noted that Musk has made no secret of his desire to launch a social media platform of his own. She said the new role would “put him in an ideal position to glean knowledge about the opportunities and risks of a possible future venture.”
Whether he still has these ambitions to found his own social media company, or whether he will be content making changes to Twitter, remains to be seen.
But for someone who owns a firm called the Boring Company, legitimately sold actual flame-throwers, and for someone who is actively working towards setting up a self-sustaining city on Mars and revolutionising space travel, it’s safe to say - expect the unexpected.
The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners