Tesla CEO Elon Musk said he would turn Twitter into a bastion of free speech if his plan to acquire the social media company for $43 billion succeeds.
“I don’t know if I have all the answers here, but I do think that we want to be just very reluctant to delete things and just be very cautious with permanent bans,” Musk said during an on-stage interview at the TED conference on Thursday, April 14. “Time-outs, I think, are better than permanent bans.”
In cases when a tweet is perceived by some to be harmful but others are okay with it, Musk said he would “let the tweet exist.” But he cautioned that if a tweet is very controversial, he would “not want to necessarily promote that tweet.”
Musk made his comments just hours after he made an unsolicited bid to buy Twitter and take it private. That move came after a roller-coaster week during which he disclosed buying a 9.2% stake in the company, was offered a board seat, and then declined to accept the position.
Musk’s focus on free speech would be a sharp reversal for Twitter, which has increasingly policed its service for hate, COVID vaccine disinformation, and violence. Following the January 6 Capitol riot, it banned then President Donald Trump from the service, which, in the view of many Republicans, was another sign that the platform is biased against conservatives.
During his interview on Thursday, Musk said that he would go even further to prove that Twitter is unbiased, suggesting that under his control, its underlying algorithms would be open for the public to inspect. This way, he said, users would be able to verify that “there’s no sort of behind-the-scenes manipulation, either algorithmically or manually.”
“Having a black-box algorithm promote some things and not other things, I think this can be quite dangerous,” Musk said.
He did acknowledge that Twitter is “bound by the laws of the country that it operates in” and that there are “some limitations on free speech in the U.S.”
Musk, the world’s wealthiest individual, also addressed some doubts about whether he could afford to buy Twitter on his own. Certain limitations on his ability to sell or borrow against his Tesla stake could make coming up with enough cash difficult.
Musk responded that he could “technically afford” to buy Twitter on his own while also raising some doubts.
“I do think this will be somewhat painful, and I’m not sure that I will actually be able to acquire it,” Musk said. He left the door open to keeping as many shareholders as the law allows for private companies, which would mean he wouldn’t need to spend as much money.
If Twitter’s board rejects Musk’s bid, Musk insisted that he has a Plan B, but he didn’t elaborate what that plan involves. He has said that his current bid would be his highest offer.
Musk also emphasized that his plans to acquire Twitter is “not a way to sort of make money,” downplaying the notion that that entrepreneur Mark Cuban floated on Twitter in response to Musk’s announcement. Some have speculated that Musk merely wants to run up Twitter’s stock price with his machinations and take a quick profit.
“I think this is just my strong intuitive sense that having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important to the future of civilization,” Musk said.
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