Elon Musk announced this morning that he offered to buy Twitter for $43 billion. Just last week, he bought 9.2% of the company for $3 billion, then declined a board seat. Conveniently enough, the controversial CEO of Tesla and SpaceX was already preparing to speak at the TED2022 conference for a conversation that was in such high demand that TED made the livestream available to the public.
In the first question of the session, TED head Chris Anderson immediately asked Musk why he made an offer to buy Twitter.
“I think it’s very important for there to be an inclusive arena for free speech. Twitter has become kind of a de facto town square, so it’s really important that people have both the reality and the perception that they are able to speak freely within the bounds of the law,” he said, after jokingly trying to deflect the question to talk about the movie “Ted,” which stars a talking bear.
Anderson pointed out that Musk identifies as a “free speech absolutist.” Musk understands that Twitter must adhere to US laws (it’s illegal to yell “fire!” in a movie theater if there is no fire, for example), but he thinks that “if someone you don’t like is allowed to say something you don’t like, if that is the case, then we have free speech.”
Of course, it is not against the rules to disagree with someone on Twitter, but the rules do prohibit things like hate speech, targeted harassment, and COVID-19 misinformation, so it’s unclear what kind of changes Musk would actually want to make to the platform’s rules. He said he wants Twitter to match the laws of the country it’s operating in, which mirrors the approach that platforms like Parler and Truth Social are taking. He added that he thinks it’s ok to put users “in time out,” but that permanent bans aren’t productive.
Musk added that he wants Twitter’s code, including its algorithm, to be available on Github. Several US legislators have called for greater transparency around social media algorithms, especially in the wake of former Facebook employee Frances Haugen’s document leaks, which show that Facebook favors content that’s more likely to incite anger.
Musk also wants to reduce spam on the platform.