When Elon Musk buys into Twitter, I don’t need a little bird to tell me something’s up | John Naughton

When the news broke last week that Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX and the world’s richest man, had paid $2.9 billion (£2.3 billion) for a 9.2% stake in Twitter, the media world lost – old and new – momentarily all they could roughly be called a collective mind. What was Musk up to? (He’s always up to something, after all, even if it’s just trolling. And with more than 80 million Twitter followers, he’s a pretty effective troll.)

Since no one knows what’s going on in Musk’s head, feverish speculation began. One camp thought he was just doing it “for the lulz” (fun, amusement, humor, glee). If your net worth is $290 billion, $2.9 billion is effectively pocket change. And it made him the largest single shareholder in the company. Twitter then recognized the seriousness of the situation and agreed to give him a seat on the board in a deal that allegedly prevents him from acquiring a controlling stake in the company.

For what it’s worth, I’m not buying the Lulz Statement. Of course, Musk likes to play with his massive gallery, but something far more serious is afoot. He wants to fundamentally change the way Twitter works. In particular, he believes the platform should have an edit button that would allow people to edit their tweets after they’ve been broadcast. He polled his Twitter followers and asked if they agreed. Of Of the 4.4 million who voted, 73.6% said yes.

Why is this interesting? Basically because Musk has a problem with his own addiction to Twitter. It’s called the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the powerful federal agency created after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 whose primary purpose is to enforce the Market Manipulation Act. And Musk has been at odds with the SEC for quite some time.

For example, in 2018 he was sued by the agency after tweeting that he had “secured the financing” to take Tesla private for $420 a share. He settled the case by relinquishing his title as chairman, and the company agreed to appoint a “Twitter sitter” — a securities attorney who would henceforth be required to approve any written statement by Musk about the company that contained “material information.” ‘ might contain. The comparison was updated in 2019 to include topics he couldn’t tweet about without permission; This included Tesla’s financial position, earnings forecasts, planned acquisitions and production data.

Attempting to legally muzzle Musk is like trying to cover Mount Etna, and the SEC is investigating whether he complied with the 2019 settlement. After seeing some of the stuff he tweeted, I’d be amazed if the agency found he followed either the letter or the spirit of the settlement. Last month he filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to overturn the agreement. Most importantly, his attorney claimed that the SEC was effectively trying to prevent him from exercising his “first amendment rights.” So, apparently, the crux of the matter here is that the US government is trying to restrict a CEO’s right to free speech to publish anything he wants, including market-sensitive comments on his stock price (as in a May 1, 2020 Musk tweet that “Tesla stock is too high imo”).

Given that Musk’s tweet incontinence appears to be incurable, it will be interesting to see what the SEC decides. Of course, as a government agency, it cannot force Twitter to remove him from the platform, as that would actually violate the First Amendment. On the other hand, Twitter could ban it – like Donald Trump did – because it’s just a public company. although it just happens to be part-owned by him now.

But what if Musk continues his habit of tweeting what is considered essential information about his company under securities law – things that could affect the stock price? This would put him on a collision course with the law, which would put most corporate leaders off. However, Musk has a track record of being indifferent to government regulations. At the start of the Covid-19 crisis, he reopened his Tesla factory in California, despite a local lockdown order. As the Guardian reported at the time, “‘Tesla resumes production today against Alameda County rules,'” the billionaire CEO tweeted. “I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it be only me.’” He also threatened to move its headquarters and “future programs” to Texas or Nevada “immediately” and suggested that the company “stop Fremont manufacturing should not be maintained at all”. .

We’ve reached an odd point where, as tech commentator Ranjan Roy puts it, “The US government regulator has fallen out with the world’s richest man over his ability to use a communications platform that serves his business interests.” is crucial – and he just went and effectively bought the platform.” Maybe that’s why he’s suddenly in favor of being able to revise his tweets. It could end up being his jail break card.

what i read

The transformation of things to come
The Geopolitics of Fossil Fuels and Renewables Reshape the World is a wonderful reality check by Helen Thompson in Nature.

Strange talk
A fascinating one New York Times Essay on language is ‘meatspace’? Technology does fun things with Peter Coy’s language.

philosophical outlook
The First Authoritarian: Popper’s Plato is an interesting essay by Tae-Yeoun Keum in the hedgehog review on Karl Popper’s interpretation of Plato.

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