More On: Elon Musk
Elon Musk tells Tucker Carlson that the U.S. government was able to read the direct messages of Twitter users
Teslas will always be in demand. Perhaps space rockets will as well. Petrol vehicles will be discreetly phased away. And if you acquire enough likes and followers, you could win a spot on Mars' planned space colony. With the announcement today that Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and one of the world's richest men, has purchased a 9.2 percent interest in Twitter, there will be plenty of jokes about how he may transform the social media site. But by far the most important is this. He may be able to shift it to the libertarian right. That would be quite big.
Twitter shares jumped 25% in early trading on Wall Street today when news leaked that Musk had purchased a large portion of the company's stock. So far, he maintains that the stakes are essentially 'passive.' Well, maybe. In actuality, over $3 billion (£2.3 billion) is a lot of money to spend on a "passive stake" in anything. And, with a total market capitalization of $30 billion (£23 billion), Musk can easily afford the entire company. After all, he is one of the wealthiest individuals in history, with a fortune of $270 billion (£206 billion) derived partly from Tesla's phenomenal success. He could buy the entire company without even recognizing the pressure on his money account.
Despite the fact that most ordinary, rational people don't pay much attention to it, Twitter has become strangely influential over the last decade, producing a frenzied milieu in which political discourse is shaped. And there is no doubt that it is solidly on the left. Twitter timelines are much too often filled with self-righteous virtue signaling that is far more suited to socialist than conservative viewpoints.
Musk, like other tycoons, does not hold any firmly held or particularly consistent political beliefs. To be fair, he's probably too busy building cars to spend his days re-reading Hayek and Rawls. Nonetheless, he is solidly on the libertarian right, having relocated Tesla's headquarters from high-tax, leftist California to low-tax, freedom-loving Texas. He has also proposed that his admittedly slightly utopian Mars colony be devoid of any sort of authority. Musk was quick to observe something significant about Twitter: it is frequently not on the same side as he is.
'Given that Twitter functions as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech rules fundamentally weakens democracy,' Musk wrote in a tweet only a few weeks ago. 'How should we proceed?'
We now have an answer to that question. It remains to be seen if he makes a full-fledged play for the company – and first reactions indicate that Wall Street now expects a takeover battle – or simply exerts control behind the scenes. The essential issue, though, is that if he takes control, Twitter may begin to offer libertarian and right-of-center viewpoints as much space as it does the woke radicals who currently dominate it. That would be a significant shift.