@SECGov: #ThoughtsandPrayers. The US market watchdog will get the job done after his persona non grata, billionaire Tesla boss and libertarian “freedom of speech absolutist” Elon Musk, becomes persona non grata Twitter’s largest shareholder and board member. Musk’s tweet of what appears to be market-moving company information has sparked scrutiny by the Securities and Exchange Commission at least twice before. That one of the loudest and most controversial voices in Twitter’s “Town Square” could now be helping to control it should be of concern to the SEC and beyond.
At first glance, Twitter has one board member who isn’t just a prolific user, with 80.9 million followers (Twitter’s daily average users amounted to 217 million in 2021), but a vocal critic of your product isn’t a bad thing either—even if you recently did it to portray its new CEO, Parag Agrawal, as Joseph Stalin in a satirical tweet. Musk has pushed for changes to Twitter’s interface that appear to have popular support (he polled his followers to ask). This includes allowing users to do this edit tweets; A feature Twitter says is now in development despite years of internal debate. The expectation that a disruptor like Musk will bring positive change to Twitter, which has been criticized for being slow to innovate, is one of the reasons its stock price rose nearly 30 percent after news of his investment.
Another specter of Musk’s is the increased moderation Twitter has imposed in recent years after criticism for allowing too much hate speech and misinformation. The company has taken a more aggressive stance on banning accounts, particularly Donald Trump. But moderation is good get censored. Instead, Musk appears to be in favor of opening up the algorithms that control the feed that users see; an idea Twitter is also considering.
Exposing the underlying code so users can control what they see would be a revolutionary step for a social network. It could improve the user experience on the platform and potentially increase engagement — a key metric by which tech companies are judged. But whether it actually helps Twitter make money is another question: an unmoderated free-for-all is Advertisers are unlikely to attract alongside potentially toxic content.
But while Musk’s tech-savvy and conflicted nature could be a boon to Twitter, they could easily become a liability if political and regulatory headwinds build against Big Tech. He is adept at using the medium to further his extensive business interests at both Tesla and SpaceX and taking on his critics. including the SEC. Even the timing of the announcement of his 9.2 percent stake was questionable: the official filing on April 4 was triggered after a 10-day period when he crossed a 5 percent threshold on March 14 true share ownership was not disclosed, he asked followers whether Twitter’s algorithm should be open source and whether the platform adheres to freedom of speech. Lobbying his followers for the Twitter model takes on new meaning when read in the context of Musk, who quietly built the largest stake in the company at a lower cost than when his interest was made public . Musk’s April 4 tweet simply read, “oh hi lol.”
Musk isn’t a unique media-focused tech billionaire — Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and owner of the Washington Post, is the most prominent other example. However, traditional media have strict policies that separate editorial content from the commercial interests of its owners. Twitter now needs to do something similar – it will likely take 280+ characters.
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