Opinion: Elon Musk is buying Twitter. What’s the big deal?

The recent announcement of Elon Musk’s plan to buy Twitter has caused controversy about whether the acquisition is good for the social media company and its users. Musk presents himself as an advocate for free speech, however his political beliefs are somewhat unpredictable, seeming to change to fit whatever is good for business.

This acquisition questions if the world’s wealthiest man can be trusted with direct, unmoderated communication with 217 million Monetizable Daily Active Users, according to Twitter’s Selected Company Metrics and Financials report, last updated Feb. 2, 2022. Elon Musk should be monitored very carefully as he grows his family of corporations.

Musk is a self-proclaimed supporter of the right to free speech but has shown that he can change his mind on that if the truth is bad for business. Tesla fired former Autopilot employee John Bernal after he posted a video review showing Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) Beta system. The firing came after a video in which the FSD beta program was engaged, and the car knocked over multiple bollards.

Musk has shown that he is capable of using his social media presence inappropriately in the past. He settled a case with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over a post from 2018 that he made which resulted in the settlement in which Musk and Tesla agreed that, among other conditions,

“Tesla will establish a new committee of independent directors and put in place additional controls and procedures to oversee Musk’s communications,” as stated in a press release from the SEC on Sept. 29, 2018. The SEC’s charges alleged that Musk’s post claimed a specific financial valuation of Tesla when Musk had not discussed the price with potential financial partners.

This settlement came after the SEC brought securities fraud charges against Musk for a post that he made claiming that he could take Tesla private at $420 per share, that funding was secured for this, and that the shareholder vote was the only remaining delay. The SEC’s complaint alleged that Musk’s misleading tweets “led to significant market disruption” and “lacked adequate basis in fact.”

More recently, the SEC responded to a court filing by Musk in March 2022 challenging a subpoena filed by the SEC requesting proof of board oversight of Musk’s Twitter account. Musk’s filing sought to terminate the settlement agreement made in 2018 between Tesla, Musk and the SEC. According to Barron’s, the SEC determined that “There is no valid substantive basis to challenge the subpoena.”

“I just think that he wants to make more money,” said  Ellie Booth, a Junior at Roosevelt University. “I worry that he is going to be able to say whatever he wants without anyone stopping him. If he does turn out to be a bad person, isn’t that a lot of power?”

Musk posts multiple times daily, expressing himself on his Twitter account. Often, the posts seem casual and comedic, like this post about Musk buying Coca-Cola next. These posts have the structure and tone of normal social engagement, as if the account were a personal account. Some of his followers feel that they have gained a sense of who Musk is over the years as a byproduct of his social media presence.

“He has a good sense of right and wrong, you can see that from his actions,” said Nick Marsh, 29, of Avondale. “He’s my favorite famous person.”

“I don’t understand why Musk buying Twitter is any different than some other mega-rich guy owning it,” Marsh said. “He obviously likes to use Twitter; why would he do anything bad to it?”

This concern over Musk’s character is complex because Musk’s personality traits are being presented to the public through the lens of social media.

“I think the biggest misconception of any public figure of that level is that they are just sat there on their mobile phone ready to write a post,” said social media content specialist Andreas Georgiou. “For the most part, at that level, somebody’s profile is a business tool. Therefore, I believe there is a lot of business thought that goes into what Elon posts, and I would be incredibly surprised if there were not multiple people involved in that process of what gets published.”

The SEC has determined that Musk should have oversight making sure that what he posts is legal, but this potential acquisition could mean that there are fewer people able to moderate what he is able to say.

“Social media is regulated by the platform itself, by the people who want the platform to be used and to be run in a certain way,” Georgiou said. “There isn’t oversight above that level.”

Musk’s social media presence has given Booth reservations about what he might accomplish as the owner of Twitter.

“I don’t pretend to know what the guy [Musk] is like, but I know that he posts a lot about money and I don’t like that,” Booth said. “I worry that with all of the analytics available to people these days, someone that smart can take advantage.”

Georgiou explained that public opinion will play a part in how Musk might act in the future. “He has to deliver on his promises,” he said. “You could argue that it is like an election campaign. I do think that because he is so scrutinized, it would be very difficult for him to do something immoral without some level of transparency. But even with transparency, when you have total ownership of something, you can still do what you want whether people agree or not. That is something that definitely needs to be monitored.”

If Musk begins to take Twitter in a direction that is bad for open communication and free speech, the only people who can stand in his way are now the many Twitter users that determine the platform’s success.

That is my concern. I have seen a lot of Elon Musk, and I find him to be charismatic and entertaining like many others. I have even heard some of his political rhetoric and thought it to be interesting. I also see that what Musk is showing us is potentially just that, a show. I am both scared and excited to see what happens next.