Twitter’s battle to lead a certain worldview
The Twitter platform has become a big player in information but still a dwarf compared to the tech giants in terms of revenue, but it doesn’t welcome Elon Musk’s dollars with open arms, a sign that the gap has widened between Silicon Valley and the world’s richest man.
On the other hand, the growth of the platform regularly disappoints, and its advertising revenues have remained inversely proportional to its fame.
When Elon Musk proposed last week to acquire Twitter at a price that would value it at more than 43 billion USD (compared to about 36 billion at the moment), the platform’s stock took off on Wall Street.
But the board of directors responded by adopting a so-called “poison pill” clause: its members would rather sell off the shares for all other shareholders, and thus raise the price for Elon Musk, than accept his offer. This reaction is partly “visceral”, explains Roger Kay, of Endpoint Technologies Associates.
The Tesla boss “doesn’t listen to anyone but himself. He ridicules people who disagree with him. He has everything of the autocrat”, the analyst details. But the Board is made up of “people who are used to having their say”, he continues. “They would risk being reduced to subordinate roles”.
Elon Musk, with libertarian ideas, considers the platform as the essential public place for democracy in the world, a vision shared by many observers and elected officials. But his plans to “unlock its potential” angers users, employees and leaders affiliated with the left of the political spectrum.
“Elon Musk is friends with Peter Thiel (investor and Donald Trump supporter, ed.). There is a pinch of far right in his views, and sexism, among other things,” says Roger Kay. In February, California accused the Tesla factory in Fremont, in Silicon Valley, of “racial segregation”. Several women have complained of harassment at the tycoon’s companies. And Elon Musk moved Tesla’s headquarters in late 2021 to Texas, a predominantly Republican state that has passed a particularly restrictive abortion law.
But for his fans, he’s a sassy entrepreneur, who’s making dreams come true with the success of his electric cars and his other flagship, SpaceX. “He is the Steve Jobs of our generation,” says Trip Chowdhry of Global Equities Research, who believes that he fascinates everyone. Elon Musk wants content moderation to be more transparent and much less severe.
The anti-Twitter, especially conservatives who feel censored, such as supporters of former president Donald Trump, banned from the site after being accused of inciting violence. But for the left, the network is instead already too tolerant of misinformation and hate speech.
From an economic point of view, freeing up even more speech seems risky. “It doesn’t work: the trolls take over and drive people away,” says independent analyst Rob Enderle. Elon Musk owns about 9% of Twitter’s capital.
To buy the rest, according to the New York Post, he is ready to put up to 15 billion US from his pocket, to raise funds from banks in the form of debt and to bypass the board of directors by appealing directly to shareholders. He may advocate transparency and decentralization, but he intends to make Twitter a private company (not listed on the stock market), which would therefore have “even less accountability,” says Carolina Milanesi of Creative Strategies.
“He’s a smart guy, but just because you have a lot of followers on Twitter doesn’t mean you understand his business model. It’s not just about tweeting nonsense to get attention.” Even on the side of investors and shareholders, the unpredictable executive’s proposal is not unanimous. “Some funds think they can leverage Twitter and get more money out of it than it offers,” says Richard Smith, the boss of RiskSmith, an investment tool.
He says the Tesla boss has the skills to transform the platform, but he may have other designs in mind. “He has already talked about creating his own social network. Maybe he’s looking for incredible publicity to launch his own company. He’s clearly got a talent for hawking!”