Business: Elon, Twitter and Free Speech

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One thing to maybe look out for in the merger agreement is any sort of social provisions, any sort of binding or even symbolic commitment by Musk to do anything in particular with Twitter’s service. I would not expect this: Twitter’s board seems to have treated this as a pretty straightforward shareholder-value-maximizing M&A transaction, negotiating for standard stuff (price, deal certainty, a go-shop) that public-company boards want and not seeming particularly concerned with the unusual social importance of their product. This is in keeping with the general impression that Twitter’s board gives, of being a bunch of people who have never used Twitter and find it somewhat distasteful.

Conservatives Revel in Elon Musk's Twitter Buy: 'Huge Win Against Woke Mob'

You could imagine Twitter’s board saying, look, this company that we run has built a product that is very important for society, that people use as a means of political communication and as a “town square” and also as a direct messaging service. We want to maximize price for our shareholders, but we also view that product as something of a public trust, and if you want to buy it you have to commit to treating it that way. You have to agree not to publicize the direct messages of people you don’t like. You have to agree not to whimsically ban your personal enemies without any review. You have to hire some reasonably acceptable head of trust and safety. Stuff like that.

I mean, you could imagine that, but I wouldn’t. I can’t imagine Twitter’s actual board actually thinking of its product that way or insisting on those sorts of protections, and I certainly can’t imagine Musk saying yes. I think the odds of the merger agreement committing Musk to anything like this — any restrictions on what he does with the product — are low.

I don’t know what that means! It seems likely that Musk cares about free speech and wants to make Twitter better. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s founder and the only board member who seems to like Twitter, is happy to be getting it out of the board’s hands and into Musk’s, tweeting stuff like:

The idea and service is all that matters to me, and I will do whatever it takes to protect both. 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.

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. Solving for the problem of it being a company however, Elon is the singular solution I trust. I trust his mission to extend the light of consciousness.

Elon’s goal of creating a platform that is “maximally trusted and broadly inclusive” is the right one. This is also @paraga’s goal, and why I chose him. Thank you both for getting the company out of an impossible situation. This is the right path…I believe it with all my heart.

Sure I dunno. And Musk has tweeted that “I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means.” 

Free speech: is it actually a good thing? - Vox

Still I worry a little that Musk seems to conceive of “free speech” in mostly standard American billionaire terms. Yesterday Jeff Bezos pondered, on Twitter, whether the government of China will gain leverage over Twitter because Musk is buying it. The idea is that Twitter has no particular commercial ties to China (where it has been banned since 2009), so it is free to host criticism of the Chinese government. Other American businesses with lots of commercial ties to China — Hollywood, basketball, etc. — often do not tolerate criticism of China, to avoid angering its government and endangering their businesses. Tesla is an American business with deep commercial ties to China, where it makes cars, sells cars and buys parts; it is run by Elon Musk and makes up the bulk of his net worth. If he owns Twitter, criticism of China on Twitter is potentially his problem, and Tesla’s, and he might face pretty explicit pressure to censor critics of China on Twitter. This seems like a complicated set of issues for him to navigate. But soon he will own the company, and then I guess he’ll navigate them all by himself.