Whereas Musk’s earlier federal regulatory filings indicated that he deliberate to take a passive stake in Twitter, his actions since then go away little question that he intends to shake it up. After buying his stake on March 14, Musk spent the following three weeks influencing discussions round the way forward for Twitter — its algorithm, the way it polices speech, and even whether or not a “new platform” was wanted — all with out disclosing that he was a part-owner and in talks to affix the board.
“Wanting ahead to working with Parag & Twitter board to make important enhancements to Twitter in coming months,” Musk tweeted Tuesday, in a reply to a public welcome from the corporate’s new CEO, Parag Agrawal. Hours earlier, Musk had polled his 80 million Twitter followers on whether or not they’d wish to see an edit button — which might permit them to edit tweets after posting them — a winking nod to a long-standing function request from the platform’s energy customers. It may be a harbinger of how he plans to make use of his personal Twitter megaphone as a bully pulpit to agitate for modifications.
The prospect of the mercurial Musk micromanaging Twitter has despatched the corporate’s inventory hovering, staff reeling and Republican leaders clamoring for a extra permissive stance on political speech from a platform that completely banned former president Donald Trump. And it units the corporate up for a cascade of political controversies in an election 12 months, with conservatives agitating for Musk to finish “censorship” and staff pushing for the corporate to implement its guidelines defending folks from misinformation and hurt.
“Elon Musk has made clear he opposes huge tech censorship, and that’s one thing all freedom-loving People can get behind,” tweeted Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), a supporter of former president Donald Trump. Others, together with a former Trump administration official, referred to as on Musk to reinstate Trump’s account.
Twitter executives outwardly embraced Musk on Tuesday at the same time as they sought to appease staff anxious at how he’ll complicate their work.
“Via conversations with Elon in latest weeks, it turned clear to us that he would deliver nice worth to our Board,” Agrawal tweeted. “He’s each a passionate believer and intense critic of the service which is strictly what we’d like on Twitter, and within the boardroom, to make us stronger within the long-term.”
Jack Dorsey, the corporate’s co-founder and Agrawal’s predecessor as CEO, echoed the welcome whereas hinting that he expects Musk to tackle a management function. “Parag and Elon each lead with their hearts, and they are going to be an unimaginable crew,” he tweeted.
A senior Twitter government tried to reassure her crew in an open letter to employees, saying that the work of combating “hate speech and trolls” was “larger than any board member,” in response to inside paperwork obtained by The Washington Submit.
Musk’s time period on the board will lengthen by 2024, in response to a regulatory submitting dated Monday. Whereas Dorsey stays on the board, his 2.3 p.c possession stake is now dwarfed by that of Musk, who’s poised to vie for affect with activist shareholders akin to a bunch from Elliott Administration that had pressed for Dorsey’s ouster amid calls for for quicker progress.
Twitter officers pushed again on the concept that Musk will wield outsize management.
“Our Board performs an necessary advisory and suggestions function throughout everything of our service,” spokesperson Brenden Lee mentioned in a press release. “Our day-to-day operations and selections are made by Twitter administration and staff.”
Musk didn’t reply to a request for remark.
The elevation of Musk to the board units the stage for an election-year political confrontation between conservatives who want to see a extra laissez-faire strategy to moderating what customers say and executives throughout the firm who’ve championed stronger actions to cut back misinformation and hurt. It additionally dangers drawing the corporate’s administration into additional turmoil after years of investor activism and the sudden departure of Dorsey late final 12 months. The corporate is already at a crucial juncture forward of the 2022 midterm elections that can decide management of Congress.
Twitter infected conservatives when it kicked Trump off its platform final 12 months after his feedback that appeared to advertise the Capitol revolt. On the time, Musk indicated in his personal tweets that he disagreed with the choice by social media firms, and he has referred to himself as a free-speech defender.
“Musk understands consideration higher than nearly any politician or enterprise chief,” mentioned Emerson Brooking, resident senior fellow on the Digital Forensics Lab on the Atlantic Council. “He has made his fortune largely on the manipulation of consideration within the public curiosity, not making electrical automobiles.”
Brooking mentioned he thinks Musk might make strikes to revive Trump’s account and to push the corporate to go softer on the fitting.
Some main Republicans appeared to agree, publishing celebratory tweets on the information of Musk’s board seat. Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), the highest Republican on the influential Home Judiciary Committee, tweeted merely: “Musk. Free speech.”
Musk has lengthy seen himself as a hero battling societal ills he sees as inevitable, from local weather change to synthetic intelligence.
His latest campaign for on-line free speech appeared to start with Trump’s banishment from Twitter final 12 months. Days after Twitter booted Trump, Musk wrote that “lots of people are going to be tremendous sad with West Coast excessive tech because the de facto arbiter of free speech.”
Since then, he has posted a gradual stream of tweets positioning himself as a free-speech absolutist. And he has performed a sequence of polls that trace at how he intends to wield his affect.
On March 24, after he had acquired a part of Twitter however earlier than he had disclosed it, Musk performed a Twitter ballot asking whether or not Twitter’s algorithm must be “open supply.” The subsequent day, he ran one other Twitter ballot, this time asking whether or not Twitter adheres to rules of free speech. The “penalties” of that ballot, he mentioned, could be “necessary.” Twitter customers voted overwhelmingly that Twitter didn’t.
Musk adopted up on March 26 asking, “Is a brand new platform wanted?”
Musk’s free-speech tweets continued within the following days, resulting in hypothesis that Musk was taking curiosity in investing in or launching his personal social media firm. On March 28, Musk responded to complaints that the journalist Chris Hedges’s content material was taken down when YouTube eliminated movies that had been a part of Russia-state outlet RT within the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“I disagree with you, however I disagree with deleting your stuff much more. That’s what free speech is about.” Musk wrote on March 28, in response to movies being taken down.
On Monday, after the funding was publicly revealed, Musk tweeted merely, “Oh hello lol.” Later Monday, Musk performed one other ballot on the less complicated problem of whether or not Twitter ought to have an edit button. (Twitter’s communications crew tweeted late Tuesday that the corporate had been engaged on creating an edit button for months and “didn’t get the concept from a ballot.”)
Agrawal’s assertion that the conversations with Musk unfolded over weeks suggests an extended timeline than Musk had beforehand hinted at along with his polls, the place he had not publicly disclosed any stake in Twitter. A kind Musk filed with the Securities and Trade Fee (SEC) on Tuesday listed purchases of Twitter inventory courting again to Jan. 31.
Musk’s appointment to Twitter’s board comes with a limitation on how giant his ownerships stake can develop. In accordance with a securities submitting, Musk can come clean with 14.9 p.c of the corporate, which ensures a minimum of for the close to time period that the Tesla and SpaceX proprietor can not orchestrate a hostile takeover of the corporate.
Musk’s present 9.2 p.c stake just isn’t wherever close to a controlling curiosity, however it’s sufficient for him to achieve important leverage and affect over the corporate, mentioned Stephen Crimmins, a securities lawyer with McGonigle P.C. “Musk has immense voting energy with such a big stake and the flexibility to affect how different present shareholders might vote,” he mentioned.
Crimmins mentioned that any time an individual buys such a big stake in an organization, the query of a board seat often arises. As soon as Musk’s stake was revealed to the board, that they had two decisions: Work with Musk or pressure him to make use of his voting energy as leverage to exert his will over the corporate. Twitter selected the least hostile route, welcoming Musk with open arms.
By capping Musk’s stake and thus limiting his affect, Twitter has stored issues calm for the close to time period. If Musk isn’t proud of the ability he’s amassed as a significant shareholder and board member, he can go away the board and amass a good bigger stake, maybe even trying a hostile takeover, Crimmins mentioned.
The corporate’s inventory had jumped almost 30 p.c from its Friday shut as of Tuesday afternoon.
Twitter staff, in the meantime, debated Musk’s new stake all day Monday and into Tuesday. Some responded with shock on the newest chaotic determination to embroil the corporate, whereas others posted jokes and memes. And a few anxious that Musk’s historical past of instability and fights with the SEC would solely deliver extra mismanagement to Twitter.
“Can we do something about Elon being appointed to the board? I do know myself and numerous others are involved and upset about this,” one worker wrote on the corporate’s inside chat system.
Taylor Telford contributed to this report.