(CN) — Twitter announced Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, will join the social media company’s board of directors, a day after Musk revealed he took a 9.2% stake in the company.
“Through conversations with Elon in recent weeks, it became clear to us that he would bring great value to our board,” wrote Parag Agrawal, CEO of Twitter, in a tweet Tuesday morning. “He’s both a passionate believer and intense critic of the service which is exactly what we need on Twitter and in the boardroom, to make us stronger in the long term.”
Twitter made the appointment with the caveat that Musk would not seek to control more than 14.9% of the company, the company announced.
Musk joins the board approximately two weeks after he began publicly questioning the company’s content moderation policies and commitment to free speech.
“Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy. What should be done?”
The tweet followed a poll conducted by Musk on his Twitter account that found 70% of respondents said the social media platform failed to “rigorously adhere” to free speech principles. The poll was not scientific.
Twitter has struggled with finding a sweet spot in content moderation for years. Former CEO Jack Dorsey said in May 2018 that the platform needed to get rid of trolls and try to foster a more civil and productive discourse on the influential medium.
“We have witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, manipulation through bots and human-coordination, misinformation campaigns, and increasingly divisive echo chambers,” Dorsey tweeted at the time. “We aren’t proud of how people have taken advantage of our service, or our inability to address it fast enough.”
But many conservatives believe those content moderation policies have gone too far and become overly censorious, and Twitter has become partisan in deciding what constitutes acceptable discourse.
A recent high-profile case involved a story about Hunter Biden’s laptop, which contained information about the degree to which he was using his father’s name to secure high-paying sinecures with energy companies in Ukraine, Russia and China.
Twitter suspended the New York Post over its publication of the story about Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings, the central thrust and details of which have since been confirmed by other news outlets like The New York Times and the Washington Post.
Conservatives are also upset about the indefinite ban of former President Donald Trump after Twitter deemed Trump was using the platform to undermine democracy. In the weeks after Trump lost the general election in 2020, he took to Twitter as his primary outlet to perpetrate a slew of false claims about voter fraud that culminated in the attack at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Facebook and YouTube also suspended Trump in the immediate aftermath of the attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters who were convinced the election had been stolen.
Liberals, generally speaking, supported the ban at the time and tend to argue for more content moderation, blaming lax policies on social media for misinformation regarding the 2020 presidential election and also Covid-related issues such as vaccine safety and the efficacy of non-pharmaceutical interventions like community-wide masking.
Jack Dorsey and other social media CEOs appeared before Congress last year and were asked what specifically they were doing to combat misinformation on their platform.
“For far too long, big tech has failed to acknowledge the role they’ve played in fomenting and elevating blatantly false information to its online audiences. Industry self-regulation has failed,” Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J said in May 2021. “We must begin the work of changing incentives driving social media companies to allow and even promote misinformation and disinformation.”
But free speech supporters argue that “misinformation” is a label often used to silence good-faith dissent from the dominant narratives and that the answer to bad speech is more good speech.
While Musk, a staunch free-speech advocate, has only eked out a passive stake in Twitter, he becomes the company’s largest private shareholder with his purchase of approximately 73 million shares. Also, many market watchers say Musk’s purchase is a first step into taking a more active role in Twitter’s management.
“We would expect this passive stake as just the start of broader conversations with the Twitter board/management that could ultimately lead to an active stake (and a) more aggressive ownership role of Twitter,” said Wedbush Analyst Dan Ives on Twitter Monday morning.
Musk is an active Twitter user with more than 80 million followers.
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