“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” declared Elon Musk in a news release on April 25th. This announcement came shortly after Twitter announced that the company has accepted Musk’s $44 billion offer to take the company private. This monumental move puts the billionaire, a man often criticized for his erratic behavior, in charge of one of the world’s most influential social media platforms. Musk expressed his desire to “make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans.” However, his main goal above all is to create a virtually unmoderated forum, a social media platform without restrictions on speech. 

Elon Musk, with more than 80 million Twitter followers, has said he wants to “transform” the social media platform.

Twitter has restructured its site after an MIT study in 2018 revealing that misinformation spread faster on Twitter than real news. Steps were taken to correct this measure, including flagging false information and suspending accounts in violation of community guidelines. Just last week, the company announced it would ban advertisements that oppose widely-accepted research on climate change. The platform still yields incredible power, credited with helping spawn the Arab Spring uprising and accused of playing a role in the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol. The latter resulted in former President Donald Trump’s account being permanently suspended “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” 

Many suspected that with the purchase and privatization, Trump’s account would be unbanned, leading conservatives to applaud Musk. However, Trump stated he would have no interest in rejoining Twitter even if his account were reinstated. Others are scared of the new power Musk holds, controlling such a vital media source. Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted, “This deal is dangerous for our democracy. Billionaires like Elon Musk play by a different set of rules than everyone else, accumulating power for their own gain.” 

Whether his acquisition will have consequence is unsure, but it will certainly be changing the site. The Tesla CEO plans to crack down on combating cryptocurrency scams and bots, an annoying persistent issue on the site. Musk will also potentially be releasing an edit button to allow users to correct typos in their tweets or reword them. Twitter will likely change to an open-source algorithm, so “there’s no sort of behind-the-scenes manipulation, either algorithmically or manually,” according to Musk in his TED Talk last month. Maybe most importantly, the self proclaimed “free speech absolutist” has declared that the platform would now minimize the policing of its content. Although he said that hate speech would be banned, he is yet to sort out the gray areas, and his lenient policies could allow for further misinformation to spread. 

It’s also unclear whether this new Twitter will be able to fiscally survive. In a now-deleted tweet, Musk argued to remove all ads from Twitter: “The power of corporations to dictate policy is greatly enhanced if Twitter depends on advertising money to survive.” Aside from the obvious hypocrisy of his statement, this plan is simply not feasible. Twitter is practically completely reliant on ads to stay afloat. The advertising business provides for 90% of Twitter’s revenue.

The situation is still developing, and whether Musk is successful in enacting his changes while still keeping the platform afloat is yet to be seen. Generating enough revenue, maintaining the platform’s integrity, and avoiding hate speech are vital concerns to users and investors alike. Blame will undoubtedly be shifted to the Tesla CEO if things go wrong. However, he claims to be ready to hear from his critics, no matter how loud they might be: “I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means.”

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