Elon Musk looks ready to get his hands on Twitter: The world’s richest person has agreed to his original $44 billion acquisition of his favorite social network, after a three-month legal fight trying to nix the deal. And that has renewed worries among some that he’s going to make drastic changes to Twitter’s content-moderation policies — and unleash a flood of right-wing misinformation and harassment.
In Musk’s first comments after the news of his decision to proceed with the $44 billion buyout of Twitter, he wrote in a cryptic tweet, “Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app.” He didn’t elaborate, but previously praised apps like TikTok and WeChat as models for what Twitter should become.
When he announced his $44 billion deal for Twitter, Musk said he was primarily interested in protecting “free speech” on the platform, and he has criticized the company for allegedly having a left-leaning political bias.
Musk also has said Twitter’s permanent ban of Donald Trump was a “morally bad decision” and “flat-out wrong” and that he would reverse that as Twitter’s owner. Twitter, along with other major internet platforms, banned Trump shortly after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, citing its policy against inciting violence.
Musk’s stance has led right-wingers to rally around the prospect of his ownership of Twitter — and has set off alarms from those on the left.
“From the outset, Elon Musk’s desire to take over Twitter was about advancing his own red-pilled ideological agenda,” Angelo Carusone, president of nonprofit watchdog organization Media Matters for America, said in a statement. Under Musk, Twitter “will become a supercharged engine of radicalization if he follows through with even a fraction of what he has promised.”
“In effect, Musk will turn Twitter into a fever swamp of dangerous conspiracy theories, partisan chicanery and operationalized harassment,” Carusone added.
Musk on Monday took to Twitter to propose a resolution to Russia’s war on Ukraine “that reads as though Putin’s chief propagandist wrote it,” said Jessica González, co-CEO of progressive advocacy group Free Press. Musk had asked followers in a poll whether “the will of the people who live in the Donbas & Crimea should decide whether they’re part of Russia or Ukraine” and suggested that Crimea is “formally part of Russia, as it has been since 1783 (until Khrushchev’s mistake).”
Musk “routinely fails to show that he’s able or interested in protecting other Twitter users or respecting their free-speech rights,” González said in a statement. “Rather, he’s used the platform to attack people, often launching petulant broadsides against anyone he doesn’t like or agree with. And he’s regularly rallied a Twitter mob of loyal fans to follow his lead with more vicious threats and bullying.”
“Protecting everyone’s ability to participate and speak on online platforms requires careful moderation,” González continued. “Musk taking the company private would likely threaten this notion and make the platform even more toxic to its users and the public.”
Also predicting a nightmare scenario for Twitter under Musk’s stewardship is women’s advocacy group UltraViolet. “If this deal goes through, Twitter will become an even more dangerous place for women, threats of violence online against Black women and women of color will skyrocket, and anti-trans content will take hold of user feeds,” said UltraViolet communications director Bridget Todd.
As a result of the ongoing M&A drama, Musk now has 107.8 million Twitter followers, up from about 80 million at the beginning of April.
Analysts say that if Musk does indeed close the Twitter deal, his No. 1 job will be to gain the trust of the company’s employees. That’s after Musk has repeatedly dissed Twitter and its execs, including CEO Parag Agrawal, during the will-he-or-won’t-he acquisition saga of the last several months. In June, Musk told Twitter staffers in a virtual Q&A that there will need to be a “rationalization of headcount” and saying, “Anyone who is a significant contributor should have nothing to worry about.”
For Musk, earning the trust of Twitter’s employees is “no small task as he’ll be starting from a large trust deficit,” said Forrester research director Mike Proulx. “Twitter’s future is bleak without an engaged employee base and there’s a lot of repair work to be done there.”