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Will Elon Musk be good or unhealthy for Twitter?


Just a day after it was revealed that Elon Musk had purchased US$3-billion of Twitter’s shares, making him its single largest shareholder, the corporate’s CEO took to Twitter to announce how the world’s richest man had determined to train his leverage.

“I’m excited to share that we’re appointing @elonmusk to our board!” tweeted CEO Parag Agrawal on Tuesday. “Through conversations with Elon in recent weeks, it became clear to us that he would bring great value to our board.”

Wait a minute. What’s this “conversations with Elon in recent weeks” stuff? Musk disclosed on Monday that his funding in Twitter was “passive”, which means he had solely stopped by to put money into the corporate and to not do any of the issues “active” stakeholders do — akin to taking a board seat or providing important company steering that different shareholders need to vote on. Now Musk has a board seat and Agrawal, who succeeded Jack Dorsey solely final November, has let everybody know that the 2 males had been chatting for weeks.

That all sounds suspiciously lively, regardless of Musk clothes his manoeuvre in passivity. Add it to the checklist of points for the US Securities and Exchange Commission to kind out, together with the opposite potential conflicts raised by Musk’s funding in Twitter. Musk, who fashions himself as a defender of free speech however has a historical past of stifling his critics, would possibly pose a hazard to how Twitter approaches free speech. Now that he’s formally on the board, it’s value weighing a number of the attainable pluses and minuses of his presence.

Agrawal himself synopsised the virtues of getting Musk on board: “He’s both a passionate believer and intense critic of the service, which is exactly what we need on @Twitter, and in the boardroom, to make us stronger in the long-term. Welcome Elon!”

Musk, the steward of Tesla and founding father of SpaceX, is a bona fide visionary and innovator. He’ll deliver that mojo to Twitter, an organization born from innovation however brief on imaginative and prescient. Twitter, based in 2006, has by no means been notably properly managed, and Dorsey’s departure from the corporate was lengthy overdue. Agrawal, who’s 37, is a profession technologist with no earlier expertise working an organization. Musk might provide perception about methods to domesticate and empower expertise at Twitter.

Kludgy

Musk might additionally assist Twitter stretch. The platform is a favorite hang-out for journalists, celebrities, political leaders and influencers, however not plenty of common of us use it, and it has by no means outgrown its early function as a discussion board for debate, evaluation, promotion and self-expression. There’s a case to be made that it doesn’t have to — besides, Musk might lay out different missions and attainable partnerships for Twitter that will permit it to grow to be extra in style and influential.

Twitter’s performance has all the time been kludgy. Search, enhancing and sharing instruments, for instance, have improved at a painfully sluggish tempo. That hasn’t served the corporate’s customers or buyers properly. Twitter nonetheless hasn’t absolutely found out methods to handle promoting and advertising and marketing on the platform, both. Musk might deliver contemporary pondering to those issues.

Perhaps Musk’s most beneficial contribution could be to alter Twitter’s metabolism and tradition — forcing it to maneuver quicker and take bolder dangers. That could possibly be thrilling for everybody working there and could be enjoyable to look at.

Now for the downsides.

For one, it’s nonetheless not clear how severe Musk is about bringing genuine institutional change to Twitter. He might simply be making an attempt to rattle Twitter’s cage and air his grievances that the corporate inhibits free speech — even if he has been capable of wander throughout the platform, unconstrained, as a world-class troll.

The SEC needed to order Tesla and Musk to nominate somebody on the electrical automobile firm as a Twitter babysitter, empowered to watch Musk’s irresponsible, questionable and market-moving tweets about Tesla’s operations. Musk revelled in thumbing his nostril on the SEC, the SEC filed contempt costs towards him, and it was all so unseemly and frequent that it led my colleague Liam Denning to ask why Musk didn’t simply keep off Twitter.

It’s a great query, even because it’s additionally clear that however Musk is on Twitter as a result of he likes the highlight. Whatever his motivation for publicly airing inside data — a few of it inaccurate or deceptive — his tweets assist erode the expectation that executives of public corporations needs to be even handed and law-abiding.

Now Musk is a shareholder and director of a public firm (Twitter) with a platform he has used previously to advertise his personal firm (Tesla) and his monetary holdings (cryptocurrencies). Will he be live-tweeting Twitter’s board conferences or sharing private details about its funds? That’s probably. Will Agrawal be Musk’s sock puppet as an alternative of his protégé? Also probably. In that context, Agrawal’s tweets about Musk’s arrival smack of Stockholm syndrome.

And how does Musk wish to form Twitter’s general voice? He’s used the platform to wage vendettas towards his critics and enemies, and his rants about speech being curtailed on Twitter appear to be extra knowledgeable by his libertarian leanings than actuality. Despite a acknowledged choice for a hands-off method to free speech, does he truly see himself as Twitter’s gatekeeper?

No one accustomed to Musk’s monitor file anticipated him to be a passive presence at Twitter. It solely took a day to disclose how lively he intends to be. It will take a bit of longer to seek out out whether or not his involvement in Twitter is for the higher — or for the more serious.  — (c) 2022 Bloomberg LP



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