Elon Musk is a digital citizen of Kane

What if one of the most important information tools in the world was owned by a billionaire who could do whatever he wanted with it?

Yes, I’m talking about Elon Musk’s offer to buy Twitter for himself, which he revealed on Thursday. His offer is worth over $ 43 billion, which is a lot of money even for Musk, CEO of Tesla and owner of SpaceX. (Musk’s letter offering to buy Twitter says his purchase will be conditional on finding help paying for the acquisition. It doesn’t say where the money might come from.)

Will Musk really have the money and attention to follow his proposed acquisition, and will Twitter say yes? Who knows? The word “unpredictable” does not correspond to this moment. We are already in Week 2 of the very public and rocky romance of Musk and Twitter and there may be more oddities ahead.

But imagine Musk eventually buying Twitter from the shareholders who own it today. The closest comparison to this could be 19th-century newspaper barons such as William Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer, and the fictional Charles Foster Kane, who used their newspapers to pursue personal goals, sense world events, and harass their enemies. .

We haven’t actually had a Citizen Kane since the digital age, but it could be Musk. And the global influence of Twitter is probably greater and more powerful than that of any Hearst newspaper of its time.

The purchase of The Washington Post by Jeff Bezos and Rupert Murdoch’s media empire may be close, but it will be a milestone: buying a 21st-century global digital platform from the technology baron to remake it in his image.

“It will be a return to the days of Citizen Kane to the press barons, who use their newspapers to pursue their favorite causes,” said Eric Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan Business School.

Musk’s favorite idea is Twitter, which works the way he uses Twitter: no bans. He imagines a social network that he has turned into a model of expression without theoretical boundaries.

In essence, this is the same opinion that former President Donald J. Trump has Truth Social for his app. Several other social media sites have also promised to build online gatherings without the arbitrary rules imposed by companies such as Twitter, Google and Facebook. But these sites remain relatively small and insignificant compared to Twitter.

Musk’s proposed purchase of Twitter would then be a real-world experiment in a parallel social media app with no limits on what people can do or say. I don’t know what this will look like when applied.

Truth Social does not allow absolutely free expression. Few people want their social media feeds to be clogged with cryptocurrency spam, terrorist recruitment or child abuse. No one is sure what Twitter would be like, who is not accountable to anyone but Musk. (An intriguing question: Would Musk restore Trump’s Twitter account?)

I also wonder if Musk really wants to to own Twitter. It’s fun to imagine what you would do if you were the boss of Twitter, but it’s not really that much fun to be the boss of Twitter. See Mark Zuckerberg, who runs Facebook. This guy doesn’t seem to be having fun.

“I guess Musk likes to be able to tell Twitter what to do, and he doesn’t really care that it will actually be done,” Bloomberg Opinion author Matt Levine said in a sinister prophetic column on Tuesday.

If Twitter was wholly owned by Musk, he wouldn’t have to worry about whims about stock prices or shareholder demands, as Zuckerberg does. But that doesn’t mean Musk will be free of annoyances.

When you have a powerful website, you may be threatened by the Russian government to shut down employees for dislikes or a family member who asks why a stalker is allowed to harass them in their personal messages. Musk may not want to deal with the ugly details of owning an instrument of global influence, but he would have no choice if he were the sole owner of Twitter.

I want to spare a small dose of pity for the CEOs and directors of Twitter. They are in an impossible situation. (The company said its board would “carefully review” Musk’s proposal and decide what it thought was in the best interests of Twitter and its shareholders.)

Twitter’s board of directors may agree with Musk’s proposal, and he may decide that finding money to buy Twitter and turning it into an imaginary haven for free speech is not a good use of his money, time and energy. Then Twitter would have a useless takeover bid, the company’s share price is likely to fall and angry shareholders are likely to sue.

The Twitter board may say no to Musk in theory that the company has a long-term plan that will make it much more valuable than what Musk offers. In that case, Musk said he could sell billions of dollars in shares of Twitter that he recently bought. Twitter’s stock price is likely to fall and angry shareholders are likely to sue.

Twitter’s relatively new CEO, Parag Agraval, may prefer to rip off his toenails rather than deal with weeks of confused drama around Musk. Maybe it’s not great for Musk to continue dealing with confusing dramas on Twitter – although … Well, he does that in his spare time.

What if Musk gets what he thinks he wants? I wouldn’t spoil the movie “Citizen Kane” if you haven’t seen it, but here’s the short version: Kane achieved his wildest dreams and was unhappy.

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