What Elon Musk’s history of following a small number of people and blocking critics says about his view of the company

April 27, 2022, 6:18 PM UTC

Now that Elon Musk is taking Twitter private, he’s likely eager to implement his own vision of how the social media platform should operate.

For years Musk has used Twitter much like anyone else: as a public platform on which to voice his ideas and opinions.

His large following on the platform—around 86 million at the time he bought the company—certainly magnifies his comments. And those comments have a history of being impactful. From his statements on the COVID-19 pandemic to single tweets that wiped billions of dollars off companies’ evaluations, the world’s richest man has never been far away from controversy. 

But a dive into how the entrepreneur uses his own Twitter account reveals he can be very insular in using the network, keeping a tight list of followers who share his interests—just 114—and blocking people he disagrees with.

Who does Musk follow?

Other than accounts related to his own companies, the Twitter users Musk follows largely seem to be aligned with his interests, whether business or personal. Musk follows a number of accounts related to technology, space exploration, and cryptocurrency. He also follows several employees at investment management firm ARK, which handles several assets focused on disruptive technologies Musk is involved with, including electric vehicles, artificial intelligence, and blockchain.

Additionally, Musk follows several popular science communicators and even some former government officials, most of whom hail from NASA. The few journalism accounts on Musk’s list are also primarily focused on science and technology. A read-through of Musk’s follows suggests that the billionaire’s vision for how users manage their follows is to keep a relatively tight list, selectively choosing the accounts and type of content they want to see more of. 

One of the big changes Musk wants to push is allowing more content to flow freely without the risk of overreach by the company moderating or censoring certain users. Should this change occur, Musk envisions users having access to more unmoderated content that aligns with their interests.

How does Musk use Twitter?

Despite him shelling out $44 billion for Twitter, the relationship between Musk and the social media network has had its ups and downs.

Between his “I love Twitter” comment and his “Is Twitter dying?” concerns, Musk clearly believes the service has immense value but isn’t being used to its full potential. He emphasized this as a big reason behind his intent to purchase Twitter in his offer letter sent to the company’s board. Musk alone could unlock the company’s “extreme potential” by reverting it to a private company, he wrote.

In his “Is Twitter dying?” post, Musk bemoaned the fact that several of the most followed accounts on the platform “tweet rarely and post very little content.” Given how Musk has grown accustomed to using Twitter as a megaphone for his thoughts and opinions, his vision for the future of the app likely includes more engagement from all users, especially those with large audiences.

Musk has long championed Twitter’s role as a “public square” for free speech, a role he says the company has been failing to fulfill in recent years. He has already been using the app as such for years, and it’s likely users will be encouraged to do the same under his ownership.

Musk’s views on free speech

One of Musk’s biggest criticisms of Twitter over the years has been a perceived crackdown on free speech and an overreach of content moderation protocols.

Musk has clarified that censorship rules on the app will remain within the confines of what is legal. “I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law,” he tweeted recently.

What this means for murkier forms of expression—involving hate speech, racism, or harassment—remains unclear, although the entrepreneur has shown an openness in the past to blocking users who disagree with him.

Musk blocked one Twitter user from viewing his account after the user disagreed with his March 2020 tweet calling the coronavirus panic “dumb.”

Author Alex Epstein, another user who disagreed with Musk and was blocked, called out the new Twitter owner’s practice of blocking his critics.

“As your best, blocked critic, I will definitely remain on Twitter,” Epstein wrote. “Although it’s pretty weak to block someone for rigorously refuting your claims.” 

Musk has welcomed his critics to stay on Twitter, saying that “that is what free speech means.” But given his history, he apparently views blocking users he disagrees with as a fair reaction to free speech he disagrees with.

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