Elon Musk, the irreverent billionaire shitposter who runs Tesla and SpaceX—the former currently being sued by thousands of Black workers for allegedly being one of the most racist places they ever worked in—has found a new way to relate to his favorite plaything (Twitter): by becoming its largest shareholder.
Bloomberg News reported on Monday that a 13G regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission revealed that Musk purchased a 9.2 percent stake in Twitter, worth $2.89 billion as of Friday's market close; Twitter's stock rallied as much as 26 percent after the purchase was revealed. The purchase makes Musk the company’s largest shareholder.
On March 25, Musk ran a Twitter poll asking his followers if Twitter "rigorously adheres" to the principle of free speech (70 percent said no), Musk wondered if a new platform was needed and whether he should be the one to start it. It’s worth looking at what Musk defines as speech that must be protected on Twitter now that he’s has a good deal of power over the website itself:
He has mocked gender pronouns, promoted malaria drug chloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment (it has long been dismissed as one), asked followers to “take the red pill,” whined about pandemic lockdowns amid increasingly bizarre COVID-related tweets, compared Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Adolf Hitler amid anti-vaccine mandate protests, and much much more. Recently, he tweeted a meme with the caption: “Netflix waiting for the war to end to make a movie about a black ukraine guy falls in love with a transgender soldier.”
In many ways, Elon Musk is emblematic of the worst elements of Twitter itself: The richest man in the world, an objectively powerful person, unaccountably making distasteful jokes about marginalized people and promoting COVID misinformation that could’ve been an email forward from an uncle, and shitposting along with brutal autocrats. He’s a Roganite power user, and now he has his hands on the reins.
For all his focus on free speech, Musk often leverages the inherent power imbalance that favors him over almost any other voice on Twitter. He has, for example, gone out of his way to suggest investigative reporters are involved in conspiracies against him motivated by fossil fuel companies and rival car companies, as well as “union supporters.” Musk and his legions of fans fans may insist that Musk hitting back against criticism is just the other side of the “free speech” coin, but this would suggest a childlike belief in the idea that the world’s richest man is on equal footing with writers for various media outlets and random users criticizing him.
Similar to Trump’s presence on Twitter before he was banned, Musk’s bombastic tweets frequently spawn news cycles even when they shouldn’t, making his purchase of a large stake in the company feel like a natural fit. And it may well be: Musk will continue to make whatever claims he wants to make, say whatever he wants to say, and whine when he encounters resistance.