Twitter may soon belong to just one person: Tech billionaire Elon Musk, the richest person in the world. The platform's board of directors abandoned its opposition to Musk's takeover attack after just a few days and agreed to a deal.
Editorial - 26 April 2022
The Tesla CEO didn't even have to raise the bid for that - it was enough that he put financing commitments of $46.5 billion on the table. Now enough Twitter shareholders still have to sell Musk their shares for him to take control.
Musk already holds a good nine percent, and it's enough for him to get above the 50 percent mark. This is because, unlike Google or Facebook's Meta Group, Twitter's founders and top managers do not hold shares with more voting rights that could secure their control over the company. Twitter and Musk gave themselves until the end of the year to complete the sale.
Many unanswered questions
What does the head of an electric car maker, a space company and a brain implant developer want with Twitter? How will the service that became a kind of nervous system of the news industry change as his private property? Who can ensure that Musk doesn't harness Twitter for his business interests? Without the transparency of stock market reports, will people even know how Twitter makes its money and whether the business is up and running? These are all questions to which there are no reliable answers yet. Musk struck big notes in his explanations for the takeover push. This is not about money, but about strengthening freedom of speech on the platform, he said. That would only be possible if the short message service left the stock exchange. Musk outlined his idea of free speech this way: "If someone you don't like is allowed to say something you don't like." Within the bounds of the law, all opinions should be allowed. Twitter with freedom of speech is important for democracy and minimizes the risks for civilization, he said.
Now, however, two groups in particular have complained loudly about alleged "censorship" on Twitter: people whose posts have been cracked down on for providing false or misleading information about the corona virus, and supporters of former President Donald Trump who can't easily claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Applause for Musk's vision came from the camps.
Critics see danger for democracy
Others, however, sounded the alarm. For example, Democratic U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote on Twitter, "This deal is dangerous to our democracy. Billionaires like Elon Musk play by different rules than everyone else." The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also expressed concern, saying that although Musk was its member and one of its key supporters, it was "very dangerous to put so much power in the hands of one person." Musk used criticism to demonstrate his approaches: "I hope that even my worst critics stay on Twitter - because that's what freedom of speech means."
Former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos, who knows how heavily posts have to be filtered on online platforms, warned days ago against an all-allowed setting. You don't increase the value of a platform by filling it with 99.9 percent pornography and ads for fake brand-name sunglasses and sexual enhancers, he wrote on Twitter.
The human rights organization NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) tried to convey its view of limits on expression to Musk: "Freedom of speech is wonderful, hate speech is unacceptable." There is also no place for misinformation on Twitter, he said.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson appealed to Musk specifically not to let Trump back on the platform. "Lives are at risk - and so is our American democracy." President Joe Biden's White House is also concerned Trump could reappear on Musk's Twitter ahead of this fall's congressional elections and the 2024 presidential election, TV network CNBC reported.
Trump does not want to return to Twitter
Trump was banned from Twitter after expressing sympathy for his supporters who stormed the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. Management has so far stressed that there is no way back for him on the platform.
Musk might see it differently: He thinks temporary "timeouts" are better than permanent exclusions, the Tesla CEO said generally. Musk had downplayed the dangers posed by the coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic, calling restrictions in California "fascist."
In any case, Trump himself told the Fox News channel that he does not want to return to Twitter, even if he were allowed to. Instead, the ex-president is building up his own Twitter alternative called Truth Social, which, however, has so far led a shadowy existence.
Musk must take out loans
While Musk will not be accountable to anyone as Twitter owner, he will have to service the debt he needs for the Twitter deal. The 50-year-old presented commitments for loans of 25.5 billion dollars and also wants to contribute shares worth around 21 billion dollars.
Musk is by far the richest person in the world, with an estimated fortune of around $257 billion. But his wealth consists almost entirely of shares in Tesla and his space company SpaceX, so he has to resort to borrowing to buy Twitter.
In return, he will own a platform that has never been able to turn its weight in politics and the media into as lucrative a business as, say, Facebook. Twitter, for example, made a good five billion dollars in revenue in the whole of last year - and wrote a loss of 221.4 million dollars on the bottom line.
Among Musk's ideas for Twitter is that a subscription model would better secure independence from large corporations than the current advertising business. But whether enough users are willing to pay money for Twitter use is doubtful.(SDA)