‘A bird is freed.’ In the most Musk-like confirmation of the top news of the day, Elon Musk gave a thumbs up to his $44 billion takeover of the microblogging site Twitter.
But the reference is symbolic in more ways than one. The first thought goes to the Twitter logo of a bird, but the deeper meaning lies behind Musk’s ‘free speech’ advocation, which is what he has long aimed to bring to the table with his teetering deal.
the bird is freed— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 28, 2022
Known in the media for his ever-changing ways, Musk has always seemed to battle between the red pill and the blue pill - or his apparent libertarian and at other (most) times conservative takes. Whether this takeover will bequeath a perennially meandering course to the bird’s flight remains to be seen. But expert columns are abuzz with what this takeover means for Twitter.
Hours before his reported Thursday takeover, Musk wrote a note — aimed at being reassuring — to advertisers. One of the things that stuck was that he wanted to take out the micro-blogging platform, perceived to host more politically-inclined voices than other platforms - out of its far-right or far-left echo chambers.
Dear Twitter Advertisers pic.twitter.com/GMwHmInPAS— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 27, 2022
(An echo chamber is a term used to describe situations in which beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition within a closed system that is insulated from rebuttal.)
And to ‘increase transparency’, Musk has stated that his first plan is to open-source the algorithm that ranks tweets in the content feed. He has said that he intends to remove the spam bots and authenticate all genuine humans.
But what’s interesting to note is the change in Musk’s tone before and after the takeover, concerning his ‘free speech’ project. While earlier a more conservative tone was connoted to the tech industrialist on the issue (with his opposition to former US president Donald Trump’s Twitter ban), he took a more centrist approach with his latest message - addressing both sides.
According to experts, this could also be influenced by the fact that Twitter is more than just a personal project for Musk, but also an overpaid business venture.
Musk has had to dig deep to finance the behemoth deal, done mostly out of his own money and the $13 billion from banks with a heavy interest.
The Fortune, reporting on the news, stated that Musk had previously expressed his dislike for advertising and Twitter’s reliance on it, implying that a greater emphasis should be placed on other business models such as paid subscriptions that will not allow large corporations to “dictate policy" on how social media operates. However, the report noted, that he assured advertisers on Thursday that he wants Twitter to be “the most respected advertising platform in the world."
Pinar Yildirim, associate professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School told the Fortune why this may be.
According to her, the note is a shift from Musk’s position that Twitter is unfairly infringing on free speech rights by blocking misinformation or graphic content, while also being a realization that having no content moderation is bad for business, putting Twitter at risk of losing advertisers and subscribers. “You do not want a place where consumers just simply are bombarded with things they do not want to hear about, and the platform takes no responsibility," she told the publication.
A ‘Humanity’ Venture or a Chinese App?
When the acquisition was pending, Musk had said that he did not “do it to make money.”
“I did it to try to help humanity, whom I love. And I do so with humility, recognizing that failure in pursuing this goal, despite our best efforts, is a very real possibility.”
But Alex Kirshner, writing for the Slate, argues that while Musk’s personal opinions have long formed his rhetoric around the deal, the tech bigwig ‘has started to talk more like a man concerned with the actual business of owning Twitter’.
According to technology analysts, Musk wants to use Twitter to help create a “everything app" similar to China’s WeChat service, which allows users to video chat, message, stream video, scan bar codes, and make payments.
Musk told advertisers on Thursday that much of the speculation surrounding his plans is incorrect.
But again, emphasis lies on the dual personalities of Musk. As Kirshner puts it - ‘Does Musk think he’s a free-speech crusader leveling the online playing field for conservatives, or does he think he’s a business titan riding to the rescue of a distressed asset?’
According to him, the latter is more likely.
Read all the Latest Explainers here