The richest man on earth and tech’s most petulant CEO, Elon Musk, became the biggest shareholder of Twitter last month, a social network he said was “failing to adhere to free speech principles.”
Musk’s new acquisition was made public in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing released on Monday. The filing disclosed that Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, bought roughly 73 million shares, or 9.2%, of Twitter on March 14. To put that into perspective, the social media network’s founder, Jack Dorsey, owns 2.2% of company stock. Musk’s shares are worth approximately $US2.89 ($4) billion based on Twitter’s closing price last Friday. The company’s stock price rose 26% on the news.
Dorsey seemed to respond to the news the same morning with mourning for a long-gone decentralized version of the internet.
“The days of usenet, irc, the web…even email (w PGP)…were amazing. centralizing discovery and identity into corporations really damaged the internet. I realise I’m partially to blame, and regret it,” the Twitter founder wrote.
News of Musk’s purchase comes after a weekend where gossip swirled around the tech mogul. A witness said they saw Musk denied entry at the Berlin club Berghain, notorious for its stringent and inscrutable entry requirements. Musk denied the assertion, protesting that he had “refused to enter.”
Monday’s disclosure brought renewed attention to Musk’s March 25 poll regarding the state of free speech Twitter, which was made after his purchase. He called Twitter “the de facto public square.”
“Free speech is essential to a functioning democracy. Do you believe Twitter rigorously adheres to this principle?” the tech mogul wrote in his poll. He added: “The consequences of this poll will be important. Please vote carefully.”
Free speech is essential to a functioning democracy.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 25, 2022
Do you believe Twitter rigorously adheres to this principle?
Overall, the poll received a little over two million replies, with 70.4% voting “no” and 29.6% voting “yes.”
In response to the vote, on March 26 Musk tweeted that “failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy.” He then asked his followers what they believed should be done in the situation and whether a new platform was needed.
Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 26, 2022
What should be done? https://t.co/aPS9ycji37
Considering Musk’s obsession with Twitter — which he keeps using even though it routinely gets him into trouble and makes him fork over millions for bad behaviour — the purchase isn’t exactly surprising. What will be interesting, however, is what Musk decides to do with his shares.
According to Bloomberg, the type of filing used to report Musk’s purchase, known as the 13G, indicates that the buyer isn’t planning to carry out a company takeover or have a say in who leads it. Analysts who spoke to CNBC acknowledged that the purchase is a “passive stake,” but speculated that Musk taking a more aggressive stance in this case would also make sense given his recent comments.