In the hours and days before Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s purchase of social media giant Twitter, discussions on free speech were common among many online users both in and out of the crypto industry.
Twitter announced on Monday that it will become a privately held company following its board of directors accepting a bid from Musk to purchase the firm’s stock for $54.20 per share in cash — roughly $44 billion. Though the transaction is expected to close in 2022, it is still subject to the approval of Twitter stockholders as well as certain regulators.
In one of his last tweets prior to news of the purchase becoming public, Musk said, “I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter because that is what free speech means.” Twitter quoted the Tesla CEO saying “free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square.”
Many, however, seemed to view the multi-billion dollar purchase as potentially having the opposite result. Angelo Carusone, president of nonprofit media watchdog Media Matters for America, expressed concerns prior to the announcement that Twitter agreeing to the sale “would be a victory for disinformation and the people who peddle it,” suggesting that Musk might unilaterally decide to allow those banned from the platform for inciting violence back on.
Jackson Palmer, the co-creator of the meme-based token Dogecoin (DOGE), which Musk has often pushed on the social media platform, called the acquisition a “hostile takeover” antithetical to the idea of freedom. Bitcoin bull Anthony "Pomp" Pompliano congratulated the new Twitter owner, while crypto lending firm BlockFi seemed to take more of a comical stance, posting a mashup photo of the Dogecoin dog and Twitter’s logo.
MicroStrategy founder and CEO Michael Saylor did not comment directly on the acquisition, instead replying to Musk with the text of the first amendment of the United States Constitution in a tweet, suggesting he supports the move. House of Representatives member Jody Hice, who has supported false claims of fraud in the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election, lauded the transaction as a win for the first amendment as well.
It’s unclear what first amendment proponents may have meant by their support of Musk’s purchase of Twitter, as the constitutional amendment does not limit private employers in the United States, but rather prevents Congress from passing laws prohibiting certain types of speech. U.S. courts have previously ruled that freedom of expression does not extend to inciting “imminent lawless action." Similarly, Twitter's rules state the platform does not allow users to "threaten violence against an individual or a group of people" or incite others to engage in targeted harassment.
Musk, with more than 83 million followers — far more than former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey at 6.3 million — may influence behavior on the platform and social media as a whole as a result of the purchase. The Tesla CEO said on April 14 that one of his top priorities for Twitter would be to eliminate “spam and scam bots and the bot armies,” including those connected to crypto scams.
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At the time of publication, shares of Twitter are priced at $51.70, having risen more than 32% in the last 30 days.