On 4 April we heard that Elon Musk, the world’s richest man and CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, had taken a 9.2% stake in Twitter. Three weeks later, the Twitter board had accepted his offer to buy the whole company.

Musk went on to sell $8.5 billion-worth of Tesla shares to help fund his Twitter takeover. And announced a restructured financing package. But by last Friday, he had put the whole deal “on hold”, citing concerns that the number of fake accounts might be higher than originally thought.

It looks like Musk may be getting cold feet. If so, that’s not surprising. Let’s take a step back and think about three strong reasons why Twitter may not be such a great fit.

1. Being the public face of Twitter

It’s possible Musk is getting a sense of what life might be like as owner of one of the world’s most influential and fractious social media platforms. He’s established himself as a no-nonsense, straight-talking free speech champion, but his obsession with “cancelling” cancel culture doesn’t seem so much libertarian as outdated.

Here’s Reddit founder, Yishan Wong, on the problem of upholding free speech as a sacred principle in 2022:

It’s all very well shouting from the sidelines, but it looks like Musk might be taking a step back to think about what enabling “free speech” actually means. As a keen Twitter user and (potentially soon) the new public face of the company, he is destined to spend ALL his time drowning in editorial shot-calling: making decisions and then back-peddling/ defending them.

Or he will need to find a very trustworthy – and equally public-facing – CEO, who is capable of doing this for him. Who might that be? Jack Dorsey has ruled himself out. Mark Zuckerberg is busy. There’s a limited pool of tech titans to draw on.

2. Whose “free speech” is it anyway?

As part of his free speech ethos, Musk has said he wants to let Donald Trump and other banned figures back on Twitter once he owns the platform. But it doesn’t look like he’s properly considered how such a decision will impact on others.

Many Twitter users are concerned about Musk’s apparent lack of empathy or awareness when it comes to the true impact of hate speech or trolling. Musk’s vision of Twitter will exclude black women and others, writes Mutale Nkonde. He is the king of trolls in an age of troll politics says Aditya Chakrabortty. He will make Twitter worse – and it’s already a cesspit says Arwa Mahdawi.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if – in a shock twist – Musk invited someone like Twitter policy and legal head Vijaya Gadde (for whom he’s already already been causing problems) or Google’s former AI ethics lead, Timnit Gebru to help him run the company?

But now I’m truly dreaming!

3. Twitter is not a toy

Elon Musk has no apparent qualifications to run one of the world’s largest social networking platforms. But – so far – he’s been very good at making money. Twitter has never been particularly profitable. So either Musk has some amazing plan we’re not yet aware of, or he is buying Twitter simply because he can.

Musk is the world’s richest man: having your own global news platform goes in the portfolio alongside your own yacht, rocket, and private island. It certainly seems that way. Admittedly, Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post. But he actually improved it.

There’s no indication that Musk will do the same with Twitter. In fact, the signs are that he’ll do the opposite. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

Nothing succeeds like success

The photo shows Musk in 2014, standing in front of the wreckage of his F9R rocket launcher. Space X board member Steve Jurvetson commented “Someone tried to cheer Elon up with a quote about learning coming from life’s failures. Elon replied: “Given the options, I prefer to learn from success.””

If Musk really does have second thoughts, and cancel his Twitter deal, it could be the best outcome for everyone. I think we’ll see another disaster averted.

Twitter needs strong, focused management and a coherent, non-ego driven team at the top. It needs a person – or group of people – who aren’t divisive figures and don’t already have a high public profile. It needs tough, consistent hate speech and abuse policies and it needs a great deal of time, investment and – above all – collaboration to create a business model that actually works. On his form to date, I can’t see Elon Musk providing any of these.

Photo: Steve Jurvetson on Flickr

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