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Business News/ Opinion / Views/  Elon Musk could assure Twitter a safe landing
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Elon Musk could assure Twitter a safe landing

His buyout of Twitter may see it relaunched as a free speech vehicle, but he should dial back his rhetoric on this for the sake of people’s safety. His risk-tackling skills would be put to test

Photo: AFPPremium
Photo: AFP

If the conquest of risk is what marks great entrepreneurs apart, Elon Musk would have been catapulted into that league by SpaceX, let alone Tesla, for daring to let one rocket blow up after another while testing a safe landing that eventually crunched the cost of space travel. Now that Musk looks set to acquire Twitter Inc for some $44 billion via an offer to fully privatize it, his fabled risk sensors and acumen will be in for a sterner test than he might have bargained for. Unlike his 2018 tweet saying he had secured funds to delist Tesla after investors got shaken by his puffs of marijuana on TV, this proposal was not an act of whimsy. Last week, Musk clarified he had $21 billion of his own money to pay, while banks would lend around $25.5 billion, about half of which could be debt taken on by Twitter itself, as credit-market mavens expect. As this would qualify as a leveraged buyout, turning the business around so that it can pay that daunting sum back may seem like Musk’s key challenge if the deal gets okayed by regulators. Instead, his mettle may be tested hardest by the need to assure us that human safety is not just the top but “only priority" in risky situations, as he said at the launch of SpaceX’s first passenger rocket.

Musk has been loud and clear that he hopes to relaunch Twitter as a platform for unbridled free speech, a stance that has rallied support and also ruffled feathers. Founder Jack Dorsey upheld Musk’s goal of giving us a forum that’s “maximally trusted and broadly inclusive", endorsed the sellout as a liberation from Wall Street, and likened Twitter to a “global consciousness" for good measure. Its chief Parag Agrawal spoke of uncertainty. Other reactions ranged from hawkish and flighty to dovish and owlish. Taken over, the company would be in for a shake-up. In the run-up to Monday’s deal, tech analysts and avid tweet trackers had identified Web 3.0 as a focal point for the visions of Musk and Dorsey to converge. If web power had to be decentralized, as once envisioned, blockchain models could aid its dispersal across the globe. A social media platform could be run like a direct democracy of sorts, freed of corporate control and top-down muzzles. The upside: it would vibe well with what multitudes of Musk fans are keen on: a bigger say online. Yet, should he take charge, he would gain inordinate power in a flash, with no guessing Twitter’s future beyond the awkward fact of it resting on his plans.

Wisdom would rest in going for an open house, but one that is kept on worldwide watch for maximal safety on fatality risks that can—and do—arise from words, images and other incendiary stuff going viral online. Perhaps technology can enable an optimal system of filters, the sort that legal limits in India—and new ones in the EU—would enforce on Twitter anyway. As a webcast device, its reach and impact have long been obvious in public life. In Indian politics, for example, the ascent story of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who began his Twitter outreach with citations of Swami Vivekananda, was one of tweet captivation as well. In America, we saw a dignified political arena get rowdy, rude and riotous, till recently. Undeniably, Twitter has had a starring role in minor quakes across various theatres of power play. Shout-outs can go far. Granted, the world needs to talk openly, be frank and lump what isn’t liked. Alas, in volatile moments—let’s get real—even verbal projectiles can cost lives. It’s happened before. Musk had better stay alert.

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Updated: 26 Apr 2022, 09:59 PM IST
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