On 5 April 2022, Twitter’s CEO Parag Agrawal announced that the platform was appointing Technoking Elon Musk to its board—which he will remain a part of until 2024. “Through conversations with Elon in recent weeks, it became clear to us that he would bring great value to our Board,” the CEO tweeted. “He’s both a passionate believer and intense critic of the service which is exactly what we need on Twitter, and in the boardroom, to make us stronger in the long-term.”
The decision allegedly came four weeks after Musk bought a 9.2 per cent stake in the social networking platform, through the purchase of nearly 73.5 million shares at a total cost of around $2.4 billion. At the time, many media outlets described Musk as a “passive shareholder” of Twitter. However, a more recent filing—as noted by Market Watch—shows that Musk began accumulating Twitter stock as early as 31 January with the purchase of more than 620,000 shares.
“Twitter announced Tuesday morning that Musk would take a board seat in exchange for agreeing not to push his stake in the company to 15 per cent or higher,” the publication wrote, adding how the CEO of Tesla switched forms with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from a passive investment to an active one right after reaching the deal to be put on the company’s board.
Given how the billionaire has championed himself as a “free speech absolutist” and voiced his desires to build a Donald Trump-style platform himself, Musk’s controversial track record of using social media irresponsibly leaves little to the imagination about his overarching intentions as a member of the Twitter board.
While there have been speculations that Musk might have bought stakes in Twitter to pettily drive his teen nemesis, Jack Sweeney (who shot to fame by publicly tracking the billionaire’s private jet) off the platform, he’s already being urged to reinstate ex-president Donald Trump’s account over his self-proclaimed vision of free speech. And this is exactly what has stirred fears among some of the employees at Twitter.
Based in San Francisco with over 5,000 staff members who are permitted to work remotely from anywhere across the world, Twitter is known for its extremely liberal and vocal corporate culture. In fact, the company was the first social media platform to take action against Donald Trump for his tweets supporting Capitol rioters as well as the first one to allow employees to permanently work from home. Ex-CEO Jack Dorsey is also an open supporter of Black Lives Matter, implementing Twitter’s engineering teams to continue building tools to fight spam, misinformation and hate speech on the platform.
Musk, on the other hand, frequently questions the need for content moderation on the app and has come under fire for a slew of viral tweets on world hunger and global fertility rates. Several employees at Twitter, in internal messages obtained by The Washington Post, have also highlighted that the billionaire appears to mock gender pronouns. He is additionally known for silencing his own detractors and fostering a work environment filled with relentless pressure, impossible deadlines and overall culture of blame—all the while missing from the scene as a CEO himself. The Washington Post further mentioned Musk’s standing as a harsh manager who will “seek to fire people on the spot when they are not on board with his way of thinking.”
Although Twitter has repeatedly assured that the board does not make policy decisions—before you ask, the company claims to have started working on the edit button feature a year before Musk’s viral poll on the platform—four of its employees told Reuters that they were concerned about the Technoking’s ability to influence the company’s policies on abusive users and harmful content. “I find it hard to believe [the board] doesn’t have influence,” an insider said. “If that’s the case, why would Elon want a board seat?”
With Musk on the pedestal, the employees additionally believe his views on moderation could “weaken years-long efforts to make Twitter a place of healthy discourse, and might allow trolling and mob attacks to flourish.” They also pointed out how, in 2018, the billionaire faced backlash for accusing a British diver who had helped rescue children trapped in a cave in Thailand of being a “pedo guy.” Musk later won a defamation case brought against him by the diver in 2019.
Yesterday, 7 April 2022, the SpaceX CEO even joked about smoking weed at Twitter’s upcoming board meetings. This isn’t a Joe Rogan podcast you’re dealing with, Mister Musk.
Following the internal outcries over his appointment, Agrawal announced an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session would soon be held as an effort to reassure anxious workers. “We say that Twitter is what’s happening and what people are talking about right now. Often, we [at] Twitter are what’s happening and what people are talking about. That has certainly been the case this week,” the CEO wrote in a company-wide email, obtained by The Washington Post, inviting staff to the AMA. “Following our board announcement, many of you have had different types of questions about Elon Musk, and I want to welcome you to ask those questions to him.”
Post the email, employees took to the company’s Slack channels to ask, “Quick question: If an employee tweeted some of the things Elon tweets, they’d likely be the subject of an HR investigation, are board members held to the same standard?” Another post outlined how insiders were struggling with welcoming a leader whose values seemed to contradict the company’s.
“We know that he has caused harm to workers, the trans community, women, and others with less power in the world,” the employee in question asked. “How are we going to reconcile this decision with our values? Does innovation trump humanity?” Another staff member, who claimed to work at Tesla before, admitted that he “witnessed the awful changes in company culture that followed” after Musk took over as CEO. “I’m extremely unnerved right now, because I’ve seen what he can do firsthand,” the person added.
Owning more than four times as much Twitter stock as Dorsey, the Great Muskification of Twitter is undoubtedly upon us. Will Musk continue to preach ‘freedom of tweets’ or agree to crack down on the kind of behaviour he himself has been responsible for on the platform? Only time can tell.
When Elon Musk shook the internet—with fear or excitement, who’s to say?—after he announced he might be interested in launching his own social media platform, Donald Trump-style, many of us knew more developments were bound to result from it. Less than three days after his viral tweet, we’re already faced with said developments.
A former Tesla employee, who was fired earlier in March after he posted a video that was critical of the company’s autopilot, has pointed out that Musk “is a free speech absolutist… unless it involves safety concerns.”
Meanwhile, it’s also been revealed that Musk was known to engage in “yelling matches” with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) while on calls about safety concerns surrounding Tesla’s autopilot feature.
But before we get into the details of the billionaire’s hypocritical and downright dangerous approach to what should be accepted as free speech and what shouldn’t, it’s important we highlight everything you need to know about why he might want to launch a new social network in the first place.
After being banned from Twitter on 8 January 2021, Trump announced that he would roll out his very own social media platform called TRUTH Social to “give a voice to all.” Needless to say, as of today, the app is failing completely, with Trump himself not posting on it since its launch in February. Then, more recently—on Saturday 26 March 2022, to be exact—Elon Musk revealed on Twitter that he was giving “serious thought” to building a new social media platform.
Though the Tesla CEO and ‘serious tweeter’ did not share any specifics on what the hypothetical app would look like or how it would work, it was clear what had pushed him to make such statements. Only one day prior, Musk tweeted: “Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy. What should be done?”
In another tweet posted on that same day, the SpaceX owner went on to say that “free speech is essential to a functioning democracy” and questioned whether Twitter “rigorously adheres to this principle.” Long story short, he was upset that the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had subpoenaed him back in November after he asked his Twitter followers if he should sell 10 per cent of his Tesla stock—causing shares to fall.
In the cases of both Trump and Musk, their logic seems pretty obvious: by building their own social network, they get to create the content moderation rules they often fall foul of on Twitter or Facebook. The exact same idea led to platforms like Rumble, Parler, Thinkspot and Gettr to launch in an effort to tempt people away from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok.
Yet, for some men who are said to have a great sense of business, little attention seems to be paid to the fact that the platforms mentioned just above have all crashed and burned miserably—and for good reason.
Former auto-safety officials at the NHTSA told The Washington Post that Musk screamed and threatened to sue when the agency told Tesla it was launching an investigation into the carmaker’s products in 2016. Since then, the NHTSA has launched dozens of investigations into Tesla crashes.
Multiple former safety officials at the agency told The Post that the regulator has done anything from flattering to threatening Tesla and Musk in order to get the manufacturer to comply with recalls.
Meanwhile, former Tesla employee John Bernal was fired earlier in March 2022 after he posted a video to his YouTube channel, AI Addict, that was critical of the company’s full self-driving (FSD) software.
In the video, Bernal demonstrated that Tesla’s beta FSD software had serious issues, including randomly disengaging while it was driving—forcing him to scramble in order to take back control of the vehicle. In a later update, the former Tesla employee said he “was fired from Tesla in February with my YouTube being cited as the reason why.”
As Business Insider first reported, Bernal is not the first nor the last person to be a victim of Musk’s views on what is considered ‘valuable’ free speech and what isn’t. “In one instance, Fast Company reported that Musk found the identity of a would-be anonymous blogger who posted a negative stock analysis of Tesla and contacted their employer, threatening to sue, according to the blogger,” wrote the publication.
“In another incident, a journalist who had been critical of the Tesla Model X launch event was called by Musk personally and had their order for a Model X cancelled,” Business Insider continued. Yet Musk has continued to deny allegations of rage-firing employees and instead likes to insist that he is “a free speech absolutist.”
All that considered, it’s also crucial for us to remind ourselves that as much as Musk likes to proclaim that he or his companies are working on exciting products, quite often, proposed innovations aren’t released on time, if ever. At a Tesla ‘Autonomy Day’ event in April 2019, Musk said the company would have 1 million autonomous ‘robotaxis’ on the road in 2020. These still don’t exist.