Observers fret Elon Musk buyout could turn Twitter into ‘supercharged engine of radicalisation’

The news that Elon Musk has reprised his original $44bn offer to buy Twitter has sent shock waves through Silicon Valley, Wall Street and, of course, sparking plenty of discussion on the app itself.

The most important audience for the move, Twitter Inc, met the announcement with little fanfare, merely confirming it had been received and describing how the “intention” of the social network is to go through with the deal.

“We received the letter from the Musk parties which they have filed with the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission],” Twitter said in a statement on Tuesday “The intention of the Company is to close the transaction at $54.20 per share.”

Mr Musk himself didn’t exactly trumpet the takeover either, instead describing it as a means to accomplish the creation of something called “X”, which he describes as an “everything app”.

“Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app,” Mr Musk tweeted after the buyout bid became public.

Elsewhere, few observers were pleased to learn that the mercurial billionaire was once again nearing completion for his takeover of the influential media platform. Many worried he would empower right-wing forces on the site.

Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, a nonprofit media watchdog, said Mr Musk’s post-purchase plans for Twitter would turn the site into a “supercharged engine of radicalisation”, given the Telsa billionaire’s public comments and leaked text messages about loosening speech restrictions on the site and potentially bringing back the former president.

“Musk made it clear that he would roll back Twitters’ community standards and safety guidelines, reinstate Donald Trump along with scores of other accounts suspended for violence and abuse, and open the floodgates of disinformation,” Mr Carusone said. “In effect, Musk will turn Twitter into a fever swamp of dangerous conspiracy theories, partisan chicanery, and operationalized harassment.”

“With reports that Musk is now on the cusp of acquiring Twitter, the platform will become a supercharged engine of radicalization if he follows through with even a fraction of what he has promised.

Elon Musk. (Getty Images)
Elon Musk. (Getty Images)

“This isn’t alarmism, this is fact. Musk made it clear that he would roll back Twitters’ community standards and safety guidelines, reinstate Donald Trump along with scores of other accounts suspended for violence and abuse, and open the floodgates of disinformation. In effect, Musk will turn Twitter into a fever swamp of dangerous conspiracy theories, partisan chicanery, and operationalized harassment.

Other media commentators agreed.

“Take a good look around Twitter,” reporter Mike Freeman wrote in reaction to the news. “If you think the racists, trolls and trash bag humans are out in force now, wait until Musk runs it. It’s gonna be unrecognisable. Most of us are going to head to the escape pods.”

A different kind of right-wing influence on the platform dismayed others.

“It is both reasonable and important to ask where the money for this purchase (if it indeed happens) will come from and who will be behind Musk with ownership,” New York University media professor Daniel Gilmore wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

The takeover is heavily reliant on debt financing, and Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, who owns a nearly $2bn stake in Twitter, supports Mr Musk’s move to buy the company.

Parag Agrawal, CEO of Twitter, walks to a morning session during the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 07, 2022 in Sun Valley, Idaho. (Getty Images)
Parag Agrawal, CEO of Twitter, walks to a morning session during the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 07, 2022 in Sun Valley, Idaho. (Getty Images)

From a business perspective, many experts thought the Tesla billionaire had backed himself into a corner and was facing a major trial in Delaware after Twitter sued in July to force through the deal, so complying with the original buyout terms was the only sensible option.

“He was staring down the business end of what was likely going to be a very unpleasant deposition,” Columbia University law professor Eric Talley told The Verge. “It was going to include a lot of things that, let’s just say, charitably, were extremely inconsistent statements that he had made.”

“This is a clear sign that Musk recognized heading into Delaware Court that the chances of winning versus Twitter board was highly unlikely,” Dan Ives, senior equity research analyst with Wedbush Securities, said in a research note. “This $44 billion deal was going to be completed one way or another.”

Many were struck by the end result, where Mr Musk seems like he will be responsible for a globally important platform he’s shown deeply ambivalent feelings about being a part of.

The dramatic nature of the takeover suggest to some a contempt for the actual users and creators of Twitter. Employees at the social network reportedly found out about Mr Musk’s renewed takeover offer 45 minutes into a three-hour meeting to plan their 2023 strategy.

“Neither Musk nor Twitter’s current management seem to care much about Twitter’s users or employees,” reporter Judd Legum argued on Tuesday on Twitter.

Still, some were excited by the prospect of Mr Musk returning to the fold at Twitter. Twitter stock soared after the offer news became public.

And some within Mr Musk’s diehard community of online fans, conservative admirers, and finance types celebrated the news.

“Elon Musk is playing 3D chess!...Great news for #Dogecoin,” crypto YouTuber Marr Wallace wrote on Tuesday.

America First Report editor JD Rucker wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “Bad news: The coming weeks of our news feed filled with Tweets about what Musk will do, how this changes Big Tech, who’s getting fired, who’s getting their account reinstated, and about a million feature recommendations sent to Musk.”

Finance blogger Eddy Elfenbein was another fan of the move, writing on Tuesday that “Elon Musk is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”