Elon Musk’s Twitter purchase has mixed motivations

Chloe Baxter

Twitter is a social media platform used by millions of people every day. It is a crucial area for conversation, discussion and networking between its users due to its unique focus on text and the range of its conversations. However, it is this focus on speech and communication that led Elon Musk, the richest man in the world and face of Tesla, to secure the purchase of Twitter for a staggering $44 billion.

“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,” Musk said in Forbes magazine.

Citing instances where users have been unable to speak freely on the platform and emphasizing Twitter’s importance as a place of discussion, Musk aims to relax Tweet regulations and increase users’ free speech. 

But because Musk privately owns the company, applying his interpretation of free speech to Tweets is not free at all.

It is for this reason that he has drawn criticism for the possible consequences of these actions from users and the stock market alike, with some worrying that the relaxing of these regulations could be detrimental to Twitter’s current status as a place for healthy public discourse. 

Taking this action could increase the presence of hate speech, downgrading the constructive conservations and networking that has characterized the platform up to this point.

Some fear that Musk’s motivations for purchasing Twitter lie beyond ensuring that justice is served in freedom of speech, but are instead rooted in a billionaire’s quest to escape accountability to anyone concerned with the platform.

“Free market? Free speech? Free choice? When billionaires like Elon Musk justify their motives by using “freedom,” beware. They actually seek freedom from accountability,” Robert Reich said in a Newsweek opinions article.

This deal does not only “free” users from these constraints, but Musk as well. Purchasing complete control of the social media platform eliminates the weight typically held by other shareholders, allowing him to monopolize the control of what decisions are made and how Twitter will be operated in the future. 

Now, while this seizure of power is in itself concerning, what it represents is the ‘freedom’ of the wealthy to “[utilize] a key element of digital infrastructure […] grant[ing] Musk a power that few of his contemporaries have: the power to decide what’s worth paying attention to.” Hussein Kesvani said in a The Independent opinions article.

While the ability to make such a monumental purchase does lie solely in the hands of the wealthy, the astonishing price tag has also raised concerns regarding why such significant funds would be allocated to something that, by comparison to alternative issues, is not as important. 

Musk’s noncommittal offer to allocate $6 billion to combating world hunger, for example, is seen by many as a much more productive use of the funds:

“If WFP can describe on this Twitter thread exactly how $6B will solve world hunger, I will sell Tesla stock right now and do it,” Musk said in a tweet Oct. 31 2021.

This may not cure world hunger entirely, but distributing his fortune in this manner would certainly benefit a greater number of people, rather than simply satisfying his desires for a more open media platform. 

Even so, it is Musk’s finances, not those of the public, so it is up to him how to distribute his money – if he would rather purchase a social media platform rather than save and improve lives, it is his decision.

However, this decision to purchase Twitter shares under the guise of promoting free speech could hold consequences for users in the form of a radical transformation of the platform. It is representative of even greater issues concerning wealth and the power it holds. But, as for the true impact this will have on public discourse and the fine line between wealth and power, only time will tell.