It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Elon Musk?
Not too long ago we learned that Musk, the enigmatic CEO of Tesla, had gone from being a Twitter provocateur to its largest shareholder. Discussions followed on whether he should receive a board seat.
Instead, he just decided to buy the whole company for a whopping $44 billion (pending the paperwork pushers finishing their duties). Musk maneuvered the acquisition like Don Corleone, making an offer the Twitter board of directors could not refuse.
He is certainly one of the more eccentric businessmen in the world. His cryptic tweets are well known. A single emoji can influence the value of a stock or cryptocurrency. He was once a hero of progressive voices, leading the revolution to end the use of fossil fuels. Tesla’s business model has relied heavily on government subsidies, but Elon simultaneously exhibits a libertarian streak.
His commitment to the open exchange of ideas has turned him into a cult-like hero for many conservatives, who have felt censored and deprioritized by platforms like Twitter. After the purchase, he called “free speech the bedrock of a functioning democracy.” And Elon believes, as many others do, that social media is today’s digital town square.
In recent years, there have been serious questions about Twitter’s growing influence over culture and its design and operation bias. Accusations that Twitter’s algorithms boost the reach of progressive content, while restricting or “shadow banning” conservative content, have been frequent. Most visibly, the platform has banned certain accounts, spanning from former President Trump to the Babylon Bee.
The Bee, a Christian, conservative satire site, drew the ire of Twitter’s overlords for daring question woke cancel culture and in the process ironically got canceled. Simultaneously, Twitter has allowed accounts for the Taliban, and even Russian autocrats launching war on the sovereign nation of Ukraine, to remain active. This inconsistency has raised eyebrows, including those belonging to its new owner.
At Empower, we believe that good ideas can withstand bad ideas. The best way for us to learn and grow as a people is to hear and consider a wide swath of viewpoints, even viewpoints that make us a little uncomfortable or challenge our preconceived notions. Echo chambers, where we only ever hear from people who agree with us, make us mentally flabby and less equipped to engage in civil discourse that advances the ball.
While platforms like Facebook and Twitter are private companies with the ability to set terms and guidelines for their use, they offer the greatest benefit when they do not tilt the scale, but allow for real debate. We’re hopeful that Twitter can come closer to that ideal under Elon’s rule.
One final word, the purchase of Twitter by Musk has raised a lot of “he could have used that money to end world hunger” type arguments. It seems worth noting that the U.S. government spent $6.8 trillion in 2021, or over 150 times the purchase price of Twitter, and it did not end world hunger. The best way to address need in this country and globally is to expand economic opportunity—that is to create jobs that allow people to both take care of themselves and create value for their neighbors. An investment in a sustainable business is a more impactful way to improve lives than even temporary charity.