Breeding Twitter like Lilacs

Twitter has been purchased by Musk for 42 billion

By Neera Kuckreja Sohoni

T.S. Eliot in his ‘Wasteland’ famously mourned “April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land”. Elon Musk chose April for his endeavor to breed Twitter out of the deadland of social media where free speech is increasingly becoming a rarity.

Since Trump’s debut in politics, social media giants made coordinated efforts to exclude him from their platforms or minimalize his interface with users. After his election victory over Clinton, a feat which stunned them, they immediately resorted to every possible way to block-ball him, with Twitter taking the extreme arbitrary step of permanently banishing Trump from its site.

The digital world’s mandarins callously continue to tighten the noose around anyone who cares or dares to express opinions that go against their own leanings or undermine the party and president they favor.

Algorithms, calculatedly designed and operated by ‘hypersensitive’ coders and engineers, mechanically suspend or evict views and accounts they do not favor, with no recourse for those impacted to litigate their termination.  Whimsically imposed bans with an unjust inconsistency permit Putin, Irani, and other brutal dictators and extremists to freely tweet but not Trump and his followers – especially the January 6 “insurrection” participants – who they fear continue to threaten American democracy.

Muzzling of speech is anathema to democracy. Our founding fathers certainly championed free speech and our Constitution guarantees it.

Elon Musk appreciates that, and it is refreshing that not only does he support free speech but has the guts to express that support openly, unafraid of the canceling-out culture’s clout. In a recent podcast interview, he stated that free speech is when we allow someone whom we dislike to express the views that we don’t like.

More a libertarian than a narrowly defined conservative or Republican, Musk understands a large chunk of the public’s frustration at the ability of social media giants to suppress whatever irks them. He wishes to ease their stranglehold on dissidents.

Perhaps his convictions, not just a passing whim, led him to try and shake up Twitter. From January-end this year, Musk started steadily buying Twitter shares at the then prevailing price of about $36, ending in early April with a 9.1 percent stake in Twitter.  Musk’s announcement of his stake was accompanied by Twitter CEO Agarwal announcing that Musk would be joining its board of directors.

The Board announcement pertaining to Musk within days was overridden by him when he stated he had reconsidered and had formally declined the seat on Twitter’s board. His decision allowed Musk to increase his stake in Twitter beyond the 14.9 percent cap that a board member can hold. Also, being on the Board would have imposed other restrictions on his freedom of expression and action, a restraint to which Musk seems organically opposed.

In the past, Twitter has not been exactly coveted by investors, and buyers have not thronged to purchase it. In that lukewarm setting, Musk’s offer to buy Twitter at a per-share price of $52 did not seem negligible or non-serious.

Musk brings value to whatever he associates with. Being a maverick with a Midas touch gives his name brand an irresistible market value and presence. His candid un-cagey quips delivered through tweets are a source of fun and controversy, while also conveying fearlessness.

Investors are puzzled and mainstream liberal media hurting at the thought of what Musk’s control over Twitter will do to the company’s content management, and how free speech will overtake responsible and ‘true’ speech. Anchors bemoan how it will bring back Trump and place global security and survival at Musk’s mercy.

Civilization’s civility and survival, critics fear, are at stake if the richest man in the world takes over Twitter. Never mind that earlier, another richest man – Amazon’s Bezos – had coolly acquired the print media giant Washington Post and turned it into his own and the liberals’ megaphone.

It is not money that stinks to these partisan critics and reporters but whose stinking money it is.

While the Musk purchase of shares had kicked a predictable maelstrom, his purchase of the company is causing bleeding hearts to mourn the resurgence of “dis” and “mis” information.

Musk has not made it easy to elicit support among Twitter’s echelons. By making an offer to buy Twitter at a considerably higher price than market value, he had thrown the gauntlet to its Board members, underlining how they have a fiduciary duty to protect the shareholders’ interests and accept the offer he was making. Elsewhere he had suggested he would deprive the Board members of their annual fee thereby saving Twitter several million dollars!

Twitter’s staff understandably is sweating not only over their own but also Twitter’s future as self-appointed guardians of responsible and politically correct speech. To soothe their taut nerves, Twitter had actually declared a special holiday, allowing snowflake workers to calm down and brace themselves to face the uncertainty they are experiencing from Musk’s purchase.  Their CEO Agarwal, who is on video being somewhat dismissive of the American free speech guarantee, has been treading on coals since Musk’s power play.

While the Board set out to explore the option of a poison pill – a traditional mechanism to prevent a hostile takeover by diluting the share price and making it unattractive to buyers – Musk managed to clinch the deal on April 25 for $44 billion, at his original offer price of $54.

Twitter’s ex-CEO Jack Dorsey called Musk’s purchase a step in the right direction for Twitter.

“Elon’s goal of creating a platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is the right one. This is also @paraga’s goal, and why I chose him. Thank you both for getting the company out of an impossible situation. This is the right path I believe it with all my heart,” he tweeted.

More thoughtful than gloating, Twitter’s new owner Musk said, “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.”

Employees’ responses capture their anxiety that Musk will undo their years of hard work “put into cleaning up the toxic corners of the platform”, and further that Twitter will suffer the disruption of its culture with Musk’s erratic tweets and unbridled management style.

Perhaps the storm over Musk’s playful inroad into yet another exciting venture will settle down. More importantly, if he is really able to prevent Twitter from arbitrary censorship and unprincipled blackouts of dissident tweeters, Musk will have succeeded in freeing the public square and ensuring the public has one less strangulating chokehold.

Neera Kuckreja Sohoni

Images courtesy of (Image Courtesy: ET) and Provided

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