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Elon Musk paints his hostile Twitter takeover as a bid to save democracy

At the TED Conference on Tuesday, Musk said Twitter should allow more ‘gray area’ tweets.

Elon Musk paints his hostile Twitter takeover as a bid to save democracy

Hours after making an offer to buy Twitter, Elon Musk appeared at the 2022 TED Conference on Thursday and laid out his vision for free speech on the platform. “A good sign if there is free speech is if someone you don’t like is allowed to say something you don’t like. If that is the case, you have free speech,” he said, speaking in conversation with the curator of TED, Chris Anderson. It’s “damn annoying” when that happens, he added, but “it’s a sign of a healthy, functioning free speech situation.”

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During the conversation, Musk repeatedly emphasized his belief that Twitter is important to a functioning democracy, as well as his desire to make decisions about how the platform promotes or demotes tweets more transparent, including putting the algorithm on Github so it can be publicly critiqued, should he take ownership. “I believe what Twitter should do is open-source the algorithm, and make any changes to peoples’ tweets—whether emphasized or de-emphasized—that action should be transparent so anyone can see that action was taken,” he said. “So there’s no behind-the-scenes manipulation, either algorithmically or manually.”

When asked why he made a bid to buy Twitter, he said he thinks it’s “very important for there to be an inclusive arena for free speech.” The social media giant would have to abide by the laws of the country it operates in, which means inciting violence on Twitter would be (and “should be,” Musk said) a crime; but when pressed for how Twitter should handle the “gray area” instances in which multiple tweets are flagged because users are concerned, he said if in doubt, he thinks the platform should let the tweet exist.

“I’m not saying I have all the answers here,” he added, “but I do think we want to be very reluctant to delete things and be very cautious with permanent bans. Time outs, I think, are better.” He did say he would eliminate “the spam and scam bots and the bot armies” on Twitter, as well as create an edit button. To combat concerns that someone could entire change a tweet after it went viral, he said he would potentially allow edits for only a short period of time and upon editing, the retweets and favorites would be zeroed out. “I’m open to ideas though,” he added.

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When asked about funding, Musk said that he has the assets, though he also intends to retain as many shareholders as legally allowed for a private company, around 2,000. He’s not coming to this bid, he said, from the standpoint of “how can I monetize or maximize my own ownership,” but to bring as many owners in as possible.

“I could technically afford it,” he said, “but what I’m saying is this is not a way to make money. I think it’s just that . . . my strong intuitive sense is having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important to the future of civilization.”

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