Compared to other social media companies, Twitter is small.
For years, investors have criticized the fact that it has not reached its full potential. Twitter has failed to acquire billions of users like Facebook (which has been over 11 times more daily active users) or to grow a mega advertising company like YouTube, owned by Google (which has more than five times more turnover than Twitter last quarter).
But Elon Musk’s $43 billion offer to buy Twitter on Thursday — viable or not — shows how important and influential the company is, even compared to its much larger rivals. There’s a good reason why Musk, the richest person in the world, has already spent about $3 billion to buy the largest share of Twitter, and is now devoting his time and effort to loudly proclaiming that he wants to take over the company completely. Again, even if Musk has no intention of going through with the deal, he’s still using his power and influence to pressure Twitter into running his business the way he wants. The reason Twitter is valuable to Musk is essentially the same reason it is valuable to politicians like former President Donald Trump, who for years insisted on saying whatever he wanted on the platform without consequence, until he went so far as to cross the line that Twitter (and most other social platforms) banned him permanently.
For politicians, business leaders, celebrities and journalists, Twitter is an important platform for amplifying their messages and checking their own stories. Musk’s focus on Twitter, and his efforts to influence its functioning and moderate its users, underscore how important the company is to public debate — no matter how much profit it makes — and raise questions about who should be in control of a company. that has so much power.
Speak at the 2022 TED conference in Vancouver on ThursdayMusk was asked why he wants to buy Twitter: “My strong, intuitive sense is that having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important for the future of civilization,” Musk said. “But I don’t care about the economy at all.”
There is good reason to question Musk’s claims that he wants to take over Twitter in the name of defending free speech and civilization, as my colleague Whizy Kim has written. But it also makes sense that for Musk, it’s not really about the money he would make or lose from Twitter’s profits. Musk’s interest in owning or reshaping the company shows just how valuable the platform is, even if that value comes in the form of soft power.
Twitter is in many ways a platform of the elite. While it can sometimes lift the voices of ordinary people who don’t have a massive following on the platform, it is most powerful as a means of communication for already prominent and influential people.
Although it has about 200 million daily usersTwitter has played an outrageous role in shaping politics, particularly in the US as the former platform of choice for Trump until the end of his presidency, when he was permanently suspended for tweeting in support of the 6 Capitol riots. January.
In the past, when once prominent users like Trump, Alex Jones, and Milo Yiannopoulos were banned from Twitter, they turned to alternative platforms for attention, but failed to capture the same social media attention they had on their Twitter. -peak. Twitter differs from Facebook and Google in that the financial markets don’t really reflect its full power, which is why Musk may harbor the idea of buying the entire company with a fraction of its total estimated value. net worth of over $220 billion†
Twitter’s importance also makes it vulnerable to exploitation.
The same VIPs who increase the value of Twitter by tweeting all the time can use it to wreak havoc. Influencers have used Twitter to push conspiracy theories like QAnon into the mainstream, politicians have used it to threaten violenceand celebrities have used it to promote harmful health disinformation;†
As a result of all these issues, Twitter has expanded its rules in recent years around thorny speech problems, such as labeling false election claims ormisinformation about Covid-19 vaccines. In its new era, Twitter has begun to balance its commitment to letting people say what they want and minimizing the damage people can do using its platform. For Musk, being the person who sets these terms is valuable, and he has made it clear that he will make the mistake of allowing as much controversial speech as possible.
“Twitter has to conform to the laws of the land,” Musk said at the TED conference on Thursday, later saying, “If it’s a gray area, I’d say let the tweet exist.”
But allowing absolute free speech is easier in concept than in practice. If Musk bought Twitter, the moderation rules around topics from hate speech to threats of nuclear violence would ultimately be at his discretion or the discretion of the leaders he appoints.
If another major tech company like Facebook or Apple tried to buy Twitter, it would likely cause antitrust issues. But there’s nothing under US law to stop an incredibly wealthy person like Musk from buying a company with so much power, even though there’s a clear possibility Musk could use the platform to shape his own business or political interests.
We don’t know yet what will come of Musk’s interest in buying Twitter. It’s worth noting how, despite being the richest man in the world, he may not have the cash to do so as much of his wealth is tied up in stocks. But this saga shows how valuable Twitter is, regardless of the bottom line.