Can Elon Musk save Twitter?

4 April 2022

11:29 PM

4 April 2022

11:29 PM

Teslas will be permanently trending. So perhaps will space rockets. Petrol cars will be quietly forgotten about. And if you get enough likes and followers perhaps you might win a place on the planned space colony on Mars. With the news that Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, and one of the richest men in the world, has today taken a 9.2 per cent stake in Twitter there will be lots of jokes about how he might change the social media site. But by far the most significant one is this. He could shift it to the libertarian right. That really would be significant.

Twitter shares soared by 25 per cent in early trading on Wall Street today as news broke that Musk had bought a huge slice of the company’s shares. So far, he insists that the stake is merely ‘passive’. Well, perhaps. In reality, almost $3 billion (£2.3 billion) is a lot to spend on a ‘passive stake’ in anything. And with a total value of $30 billion (£23 billion) Musk can easily afford the whole company. After all, this is one of the richest men of all time, with a fortune of $270 billion (£206 billion), largely from the massive success of Tesla. He could buy the whole company without especially noticing the strain on his bank balance.

Even though most ordinary, sensible people don’t actually pay that much attention to it, Twitter has become weirdly influential over the last decade, creating a hysterical climate in which political debate is shaped. And there can be no question that it is firmly on the left. Twitter timelines all too often offer up a blend of self-righteous virtue signalling that is far more suited to socialist than conservative views.

Musk, like most tycoons, doesn’t have any very firmly held or indeed especially coherent political views. In fairness he is probably a little too busy making cars to spend his days re-reading Hayek and Rawls. Even so, he is firmly from the libertarian right, shifting Tesla’s HQ from high-tax, liberal California, to low-tax, freedom-loving Texas. He has also suggested that his admittedly slightly utopian Mars colony should be free of any form of government. Musk has been quick to notice something important about Twitter: all too often it is not on the same side as he is.

‘Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy,’ Musk argued only a couple of weeks ago, ironically in a tweet. ‘What should be done?’

Now we know the answer to that question. It remains to be seen whether he launches a full-scale bid for the company – and initial reaction suggests Wall Street now expects there to be a takeover battle – or just exerts control behind the scenes. The important point however is surely this: if he takes control, Twitter may start to give libertarian, right of centre views as much space as it does the woke activists that all too often dominate it right now. That would be a very important shift.

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