Elon Musk Joins Twitter Board

Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, contacted Parag Agrawal, the CEO of Twitter, a few weeks ago with a friendly warning. He bought shares of the social media company, confided in Mr. Musk, and wanted to discuss how Twitter could get better.

Mr. Musk had ideas for social network reform that matched those of Mr. Agrawal and Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter, according to their public exchanges. All three have floated the idea of ​​radically shifting power in social networks to users and away from giant corporations, using an approach to technology that would give people control over what they see in their social media feeds.

In the weeks that followed, Mr. Agrawal discussed that Mr. Musk would become a more active participant in Twitter’s future, according to two people with knowledge of the conversations who were not authorized to speak publicly. Mr. Agrawal was also delighted that Mr. Musk — who has more than 80 million Twitter followers and tweets at times a dozen or more times a day — is joining the company’s board, one of the people said.

On Tuesday, Twitter announced that Mr. Musk, 50, would be appointed to its 11-member board for a term expiring in 2024. That followed Monday’s revelation that Mr. Musk held a 9.2 percent stake in Twitter. built up, making him its largest shareholder. According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Musk has agreed to own or acquire no more than 14.9 percent of Twitter’s stock or the San Francisco-based company.

“Through discussions with Elon over the past few weeks, it has become clear to us that he would be of great value to our board,” Mr. agrawal tweeted on Tuesday

The addition of one of Twitter’s most powerful users to the board impacts a social network where world leaders, lawmakers, celebrities and more than 217 million users conduct their daily public discourse. Unlike some other Twitter board members, Mr. Musk did not sign an agreement prohibiting him from influencing the company’s policies. That could enable him to work with Mr. Agrawal on a futuristic vision for “decentralized” social networks.

That vision challenges the way platforms are created. Core technologies would be built publicly and transparently, with oversight and input from programmers around the world. Users can then customize their social media feeds and set their own rules about what types of speech are acceptable. That’s very different from how social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are now set up, where the companies dictate which posts can remain and which should be deleted.

The plan is consistent with Mr Musk, Mr Dorsey and Mr Agrawal’s belief in unrestricted freedom of expression. Mr. Musk has criticized Twitter for moderating his platform too restrictively, saying that more speech should be allowed. Mr. Dorsey also struggled last year with the decision to remove former President Donald J. Trump from office, saying he was not “celebrating or proud” of the move. Mr Agrawal has said that public conversations are inherently good for society.

Their views have increasingly become outliers in a global debate about free speech online, as more people question whether too much freedom of speech has allowed the spread of misinformation and divisive content.

In a tweet on Tuesday, Mr. Musk, who heads the companies Tesla and SpaceX, said he hoped to “make significant improvements to Twitter in the coming months.” He did not provide details and did not respond to a request for comment. Mr Agrawal and Mr Dorsey also did not respond to requests for comment.

A Twitter spokesperson said Mr Musk would have no hand in policymaking at the company. Day-to-day policy decisions would still be made by Twitter employees, he said, and the company would be impartial in developing and enforcing its rules.

Mr. Musk could be causing turbulence on Twitter. He’s long used the service as a bat, trolling Tesla short-sellers and abusive critics. He has also spread false information about the pandemic. After musing about taking Tesla private in a 2016 tweet and falsely claiming he secured funding for the transaction, he was fined $40 million by the SEC.

His appointment to Twitter’s board was celebrated Tuesday by some Republicans, who accused the company of political bias and censoring right-wing votes. “Musk. Freedom of Opinion,” said rep Jim Jordanan Ohio Republican.

(Democrats, with whom Mr. Musk has tangled up online over the party’s proposed wealth tax, weren’t vocal.)

David Kaye, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine who previously worked with the United Nations on speech issues, warned that Mr. Musk’s view of free speech could conflict with Twitter policy, which is intended to arrange calls around the world.

“The risk is that his individual and personal business preferences, which are sometimes peculiar, will begin to influence regulation and enforcement in a way that is inappropriate for a company that is, in his words, a version of a public square,” he said.

Twitter’s move to a “decentralized” social network is rooted in the dismay of some of its top leaders at how the platform has become an arbiter of what speech is allowed online and what isn’t. While Twitter users exercise some control over their social media feeds, for example by choosing the people they follow, the service’s algorithm chooses which posts are seen at the top of their feeds and the company can decide whether to block accounts based on the number of people who use it. whether messages have violated its policy.

Mr. Dorsey, who stepped down as CEO of Twitter in November, has said users should have more control over what posts they see so they can make their own moderation choices. Last week, he complained in a tweet that the centralization of the internet by companies had damaged the web.

“I realize I am partly to blame, and I regret it,” he wrote.

In 2019, Mr. Dorsey funded a project called Bluesky, an effort to develop a new social media infrastructure that would give users control over their data, manage top tweets with their own algorithms and allow them to access their data. move to other platforms.

“We believe that people should have choices about the key algorithms that impact their online experience,” Mr Dorsey testified in Congress in 2020, calling the concept “an exciting, market-driven approach where people can choose which algorithms their content filter so they can get the experience they want.”

At the same time, Mr. Musk has delved into technologies for decentralization of control. In 2015, Mr. Musk, along with Silicon Valley entrepreneur Sam Altman and others, founded an artificial intelligence lab called OpenAI, and said the company would openly share its research with the world. Mr. Musk later retired from the company.

Whether a decentralized Twitter could converge is unclear. It could take years to show up as it would be a complicated process to refresh the entire platform.

As of March 14, Mr. Musk, who has a net worth of more than $270 billion, had built up a more than 5 percent stake in Twitter, according to a company filing. He then began expressing more of his thoughts on Twitter and free speech on the service, including in conversations with Mr Dorsey.

“Twitter algorithm should be open source,” said Mr Musk tweeted on March 24, asking his followers to vote “yes” or “no” to the idea of ​​making the code that powers the Twitter algorithm publicly available. Such “open” algorithms could give people more options to organize their feeds the way they want and to prioritize different types of content.

mr. Dorsey agreed immediately. “The choice of which algorithm to use (or not) should be open to everyone,” he said tweeted in answer.

on March 25, Mr. Musk asked his followers if Twitter was not adhering to the principles of free speech. “Freedom of expression is essential for a functioning democracy. Do you believe that Twitter strictly adheres to this principle?” he asked.

A day later, after more than two million users responded, Mr Musk wrote:“Since Twitter acts as the de facto public town square, failure to adhere to the principles of free speech fundamentally undermines democracy.”

“Is a new platform needed?” he added.

On Monday, in one of his first tweets after his commitment was announced, Mr. Musk posted another Twitter poll asking people if they would like to be able to edit tweets, a feature many have asked in vain.

Mr Agrawal jumped in, tweet“The implications of this poll will be important. Please vote carefully.” The company later said it had been working on an editing feature since last year and was due to test it soon.

Mr. Dorsey weighed in on Tuesday after Mr. Musk’s appointment to Twitter’s board was official. The development made himvery happy‘ he tweeted.

Cade Metz contributed reporting.

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