Why does Elon Musk want to buy Twitter?
It's the question everyone is asking Thursday morning after the billionaire entrepreneur, Tesla CEO, and serial pot-stirrer made a $41.3 billion take it or leave it offer (opens in new tab) to the Twitter board.
"If it is not accepted, I would need to reconsider my position as a shareholder," Musk said, according to the Wall Street Journal. That's tantamount to, Let me play as captain or I take my ball and go home.
In typical cheeky fashion, Musk tweeted about the potential deal with echos of The Godfather: "I made an offer" (opens in new tab)
But why is he doing this?
To understand, we need to rewind a bit. A few weeks ago, Musk started complaining about Twitter as not being a bastion of free speech and ran a poll.
Free speech is essential to a functioning democracy.Do you believe Twitter rigorously adheres to this principle?March 25, 2022
Musk was airing a common frustration among some Twitter users who complain they're shadow-banned for speaking their minds on the platform. While 70% of his respondents said, "No," I saw the poll as a flawed exercise in self-selection (opens in new tab). Musk's 84 million Twitter followers are often devotees to his particular brand of libertarian maverickism.
This is somewhat beside the point because I think Musk knows this but just lives to stir the pot and get people thinking - or maybe thinking like him.
He later pressed the point and insisted that Twitter's role as a public town square meant it had to adhere to free speech principles, lest it undermines democracy.
Again, Twitter is not just a US platform. It operates around the world, even in places that do not support democracy. Musk knows this, but he has pressed on.
Eventually, Musk bought 9.4% of Twitter's shares (opens in new tab), joined the board, and then unjoined it before he could, but basically won the right to have outsized influence and hinted he might go further.
Now we know his true intentions. Musk seeks to own and control Twitter outright.
But for what purpose?
If Twitter's board accepts this Faustian bargain, it will see a significant portion of Twitter's workforce leave. Musk must know this, as well. Does he hope to replace a depleted knowledge workforce with like-minded Muskians?
Let's say he gets his way and takes ownership. How quickly will Musk acknowledge that Twitter is not in fact just a US-based town square and that using the Constitution as a template for a TOS cannot work for a private, globalized company?
Elon Musk runs Telsa around the world. He sells electric cars to people around the world. A huge chunk of his Twitter followers probably live outside the United States and may dream of living in a democracy where private companies are not beholden to state interests as they are in China.
What is Musk's game here?
I know what he's said in public, but Elon Musk is no dummy and he must know how this plays out. It does not end well for Twitter, but perhaps that's the point. This is just another feint in the game where Musk treats his billions like Monopoly money, sliding orange $500 notes from out under the board, throwing them on the table, and demanding Park Place when he really wants Boardwalk. Or maybe he does want them both... then what?
By the time you read this, Twitter may have already rejected Musks' offer, and Musk, as he is wont to do, may have sold off his shares and walked away.
Will he also walk away from Twitter? Probably, but expect him back in six months.