The richest man in the world, Elon Musk, has become the largest shareholder of Twitter, setting the platform up for a potential showdown over its efforts to limit harmful content, efforts the firebrand Tesla chief executive sees as hastening a turn toward censorship.
According to Washington Post, his surprise investment on Monday, which comes days after questioning the company’s commitment to free speech and suggesting he might start his own social platform, sent Twitter stock soaring. While it was not immediately clear what role Musk plans to play, analysts speculated he may try for an activist restructuring that could change the way Twitter polices its platform as well as who it banishes.
Some inside Twitter worry Musk may push it in a libertarian direction, away from blocking or restricting accounts that cause social harm, according to people familiar with internal conversations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive matters.
Just days after Twitter banned former president Donald Trump in the wake of the Capitol insurrection, Musk wrote on Twitter that “a lot of people are going to be super unhappy with West Coast high tech as the de facto arbiter of free speech.”
Some Twitter employees and experts fear Musk’s involvement could also push the company further into chaos after years of investor activism and the sudden departure of former chief executive Jack Dorsey. The company is already at a critical juncture ahead of the 2022 midterm elections that will determine control of Congress, when it will have to police related misinformation that could help sway votes.
Musk has a 9.2 percent stake in the social media company, which was disclosed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing and sent shares up 27 percent. His stake, worth nearly $2.9 billion based on the closing price of Twitter on Monday, now dwarfs that of Dorsey, who owns a 2.3 percent stake. Musk tweeted, “Oh hi lol,” greeting users of the social media app where he makes many of his most erratic pronouncements, including news about Tesla, where he heads the company. Musk seemed to realize the potential of his influence almost immediately. By Monday evening, he launched a Twitter poll asking users whether they would like an edit button — a longtime bone of contention among users and the app’s leadership.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. The company does not typically respond to media requests after disbanding its public relations team in 2020. Twitter declined to answer questions about Musk. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Dan Ives, managing director at Wedbush Securities, said Musk’s passive stake could be just the beginning. Rather than starting a competing social media platform, as some predicted, “It looks like Elon has his eyes laser set on Twitter.” Ives estimates Musk, the world’s richest man, will eventually pursue an active stake and take a more aggressive role.
Musk polled Twitter last month on whether the app adheres to free speech, remarking the poll’s consequences will be “important.” Musk questioned whether Twitter “rigorously adheres” to the principles of free speech.
“Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy,” he tweeted. He then asked, “Is a new platform needed?”
The filing reporting Musk’s stake is dated March 14, though his signature on the document is dated Monday. That means Musk would have acquired his ownership stake before his poll.