Why Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter is worrying



► What is Elon Musk’s plan for Twitter?

After having started, in January 2022, to buy back shares of the social network Twitter, Elon Musk ended up getting his hands on it, for the modest sum of 44 billion dollars (40 billion euros), half of which will come from his personal account, the rest by bank credits. He has pledged to take the company off the stock exchange once the transaction is finalized.

→ DEBATE. Should we continue to use Twitter?

Announced Monday, April 25, this new stunt from the boss of Tesla, himself followed by nearly 83 million subscribers on the network, raises many questions about the real motivations of his project. “This one is not easy to decodesays Nicolas Vanbremeersch, head of the think tank Renaissance Numérique. Behind a whimsical personality, Elon Musk undoubtedly nourishes a real industrial project. At this price, it can’t just be the fad of a billionaire eager to defend freedom of expression. »

The positions of the billionaire, a recognized libertarian, suggest that moderation efforts on the network could be reduced. “Elon Musk is a visionary who has made a habit of provokingtempers Nicolas Vanbremeersch, and wanting to compare their analyses. Whether in payment with Paypal, automotive with Tesla, space with SpaceX or solar, he entered these sectors to change the rules, thanks to an above-average analytical capacity. »

→ PORTRAIT. Elon Musk, troublemaker who became the richest man in the world

The businessman will have to deal with the legislation in force. “For example, what would absolute freedom mean in China, where Tesla has significant interests? », asks Julien Le Bot, a journalist specializing in digital.

The billionaire also announced that he would make Twitter’s algorithms more transparent. “He comes from an open source culture and could change software governancecontinues Nicolas Vanbremeersch. Elon Musk probably thinks that Twitter has great potential to act against other platforms like Facebook and TikTok. »

→ EDITORIAL. Takeover of Twitter: Wild West

Unlike these platforms that generate strong advertising revenue, Twitter, which has 217 million active and monetizable users worldwide, including 38 million in the United States, has not found an economic model allowing it to be truly profitable. It is nevertheless a very strong sounding board in the public space, popular with young people and economic and political leaders.

► What are the reactions in the United States?

From the start of Elon Musk’s approach maneuvers, reactions and comments have been numerous in the United States, where the issue of social networks has been particularly sensitive since the 2016 election campaign. Across the Atlantic, no one seems indifferent to the efforts to restore voice to what was Donald Trump’s favorite “megalophone”.

→ THE FACTS. Why Twitter Suspended Donald Trump’s Account

In fact, the reactions largely overlap with political divisions. On the right, the critics of “political correctness” rejoice. They consider the arrival of the libertarian billionaire very promising in their fight against “Bigh Tech censorship”, a nickname given to the big companies of Silicon Valley.

On Twitter, the organization that brings together Republican MPs called on Elon Musk to ” release ” the account of Donald Trump, banned since the assault on the Capitol. The main interested party, who is trying to launch, with difficulty, a competitor to Twitter, Truth Social, said he did not intend to return to his first love… without convincing anyone: Twitter allowed him to address everyone, when the alternatives, including Truth Social, appeal only to radical Internet users.

On the left, on the other hand, we are worried about the arrival at the head of Twitter of a man who, as written by the New York Times in an editorial, “uses the platform to drag its critics through the mud, make fun of people’s looks and promote cryptocurrencies”. Robert Reich, former minister of Bill Clinton, talks about” a nightmare “.

Since 2016, the American left has dreamed of effective regulation of social networks, but the election of Joe Biden has not made it possible to move the file forward. One of the most ardent militants of this cause is none other than Barack Obama. In recent days, the former president was in Silicon Valley to raise this issue again.

→ LARGE FORMAT. How Twitter changed the world

In front of Stanford students, he insisted on the dangers that social networks posed to democracy. Among the avenues he suggested is the supervision of algorithms by a regulatory authority, in the same way as cars or the food industry. Barack Obama is the most followed personality on Twitter.

► What can Europeans do?

” The richest man in the world (…) wants more “freedom of speech” – which often rhymes with violent attacks on less powerful groups. We need a safe environment online to ensure freedom of expression for everyone, not just the most powerful,” was moved, on Twitter precisely, the German environmental MEP Alexandra Geese.

“Nothing prevents Elon Musk from buying Twitter, it is his right, it is the law of the market, there is no reason to oppose it. But within a few months, it will have to submit to the Digital Services Act when operating on European territory,” warns MEP Geoffroy Didier (Les Républicains), who participated in the negotiations of this new regulation, the now famous “DSA”, or “digital services legislation” in French, which was the subject of a agreement between the European Parliament and the Member States on Saturday 23 April.

This text in particular obliges the largest platforms, those with more than 45 million active users within the EU (which is the case of Twitter), to proceed with the withdrawal of content deemed to be illegal, as well as to better fight against hateful content. “The idea of ​​the DSA is to put an end to anarchy on the Web while respecting freedom of expression. We have struck a fine balance that no one, not even Elon Musk, can question.” wants to believe Geoffroy Didier. If it wants to implement its ads, Twitter, in Europe, can pack its bags,” says Alexandra Geese.

→ ANALYSIS. European Union, digital regulation is advancing

The same line of firmness is emerging within the European Commission. “Whether it’s cars or digital platforms, any business operating in Europe must comply with our rules », recalled for his part the European commissioner responsible for the internal market, the Frenchman Thierry Breton.

The new text still needs to be formally adopted. Then, it will enter into force twenty days after its publication in the Official newspaperand the rules will begin to apply fifteen months later.

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From Zip2 to Twitter, the journey of a limitless multi-entrepreneur

Son of a South African engineer and a Canadian model, Elon Musk was born in 1971 in Pretoria (South Africa). In 1988, he left to study in Canada, then moved to the United States in 1992.

In 1995, he created with his brother Kimbal Zip2, an online software publisher. He sold it to the computer manufacturer Compaq in 1999 and pocketed more than 300 million dollars (280 million euros).

– In 1999, he launched an online bank, X.com, then merged with Paypal. The set was sold to eBay in 2002 for 1.5 billion dollars (1.4 billion euros).

– In 2002, Elon Musk founded SpaceX, which manufactures space launchers, notably supplying the International Space Station.

– In 2004, he entered the capital of Tesla, created the previous year. Elon Musk took control of it in 2008 and made it the first manufacturer of electric vehicles in the world.

– But the businessman also invests in many companies, like Neuralink, which makes brain implants to control devices with thought.

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