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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.
“The top priority I would have is eliminating the spam and scam bots and the bot armies that are on Twitter,” he said. “They’re making the product much worse. If I had a dogecoin for every crypto scam … .”
Regarding the controversial edit button, he suggested that the edit capability would only be available for a short period of time after posting a Tweet. Perhaps when a tweet is edited, he said, it would lose all of its likes and retweets — but this would essentially serve the same purpose as just deleting a tweet and writing something new.
It’s still up in the air whether Twitter will accept Musk’s $43 billion offer — he said he has “sufficient assets” to make the purchase, meaning that the ball is in Twitter’s court. But while the business mogul was on stage, The Information reported that Twitter is expected to push back on his offer. In that case, Musk already assured the audience that he has a plan B, which he refused to elaborate on (at least it’s not a Preparation H).
“This is just my strong, intuitive sense that having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important to the future of civilization,” Musk said. “I don’t care about the economics at all.”
Toward the end of the conversation, Anderson invited the notable shitposter to wax philosophical.
Musk noted that growing up, he was “obsessed with truth,” and that he studied physics to “understand the truth of the universe.” In a way, it seems like Musk views his entrepreneurial pursuits from this framework: SpaceX seeks to explore the unknown, Tesla wants to push for more sustainable transportation, and Twitter … is an agent for unmitigated chaos on platform where he wants to say, “Do whatever you want as long as it’s not illegal?” Something doesn’t quite add up.
“My driving philosophy is to expand the scope and scale of consciousness so that we may better understand the nature of the universe,” he added. “I love humanity, and I think that we should fight for a good future for humanity.”
That’s a wild statement from someone who posts more 42,069 jokes than a crypto-curious fifteen-year-old on Reddit.