The masks have fallen. After a few rounds of the leg, Twitter and Elon Musk have shown in recent days that the time for politeness is over. The board of directors of the blue bird social network revealed on April 15 that it had opted for “the poison pill”. A mechanism that is a powerful weapon to prevent an actor deemed undesirable from increasing its shares significantly since it consists of issuing new shares and selling them at a discount to all the other shareholders. This mechanism will be triggered if Elon Musk (or another investor) decides to increase his share in the company beyond 15%.
A sensational entry into the ring because, as its name suggests, the “poison pill” is not without risk for Twitter itself. “Issue of new shares can drive down the stock price. Even if these shares will be offered with a promotion, shareholders must still be convinced of the potential of the company and be ready to put their hands in their wallets “, explains Alexandre Baradez, financial analyst of the brokerage firm IG France.
Elon Musk, for his part, very quickly raised the pressure a notch, revealing on April 21 that he had secured the financing to buy Twitter in full. In a document sent to the American stock market policeman, he specifies that 25.5 of the 46.5 billion dollars necessary would come from loans taken out with Morgan Stanley Senior Funding and the remaining 21 billion from his personal fortune.
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But why did the case finally turn into a clash? Elon Musk is both “a passionate and fierce critic of our service, which is exactly what we need to become stronger in the long term,” said Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal on April 5. An admittedly polite sentence, published when the time was still for diplomacy, but it nevertheless retains a kernel of truth: Elon Musk publishes tweets from morning to night and is one of the ten most followed people on the network with more than 80 million subscribers.
A simplistic view of freedom of expression
The wealthiest man in the world has, moreover, proven his entrepreneurial talents by disrupting highly complex sectors for new entrants (space, automotive). Over the course of his tweets and his statements, Elon Musk however revealed his project for Twitter in small touches. And this is where the difference is felt: his vision of content moderation is very different from that of the leaders of Twitter. While the latter have reinforced the moderation of content published on the network, Elon Musk is in favor of letting everything be said and proposes to make Twitter the platform for freedom of expression par excellence in the world.
“A good indicator of the degree of freedom of expression offered is to see if people you don’t like have the right to say things you don’t like? If so, that’s freedom of expression. It’s very unpleasant to have to hear people we don’t like say things we don’t agree with. But it’s a sign of real freedom of expression. and healthy,” the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX explained in a recent TED Talk.
On paper, of course, this all sounds rather positive. After all, who wouldn’t want citizens oppressed by authoritarian regimes to be able to express themselves on the web? Or that Internet users can lead long and rich debates in order to test and refine their thoughts, by comparing them with those of others? Elon Musk’s stances on free speech are, however, simplistic in some respects. The former CEO of the huge Reddit platform, Yishan Wong, also explained it with a lot of humor: “If Elon manages to buy Twitter, he will discover that behind there are inextricable problems. He does not know what he is stepping into.”
False information and harassment
According to Yishan Wong, Elon Musk’s vision of freedom of expression on the internet reflects a generational gap: “The debate on freedom of expression on the internet emerged in the United States in the late 1990s, when the majority of people who advocated censorship were religious conservatives. Concretely, these censors were mainly seeking to suppress what revolved around sex and other supposedly amoral practices”.
But the problems that now arise on this subject no longer have anything to do with it. With digital tools, harassment practices have, for example, changed. Completely new phenomena have appeared such as “digital raids”, the specific categorization of which has recently been introduced into the Criminal Code. During this “harassment in packs”, the victims sometimes receive torrents of insults and death threats, sent by hundreds of Internet users who do not necessarily know each other, but exchange on the same group or are subscribed to the same influencer account and gather to bully a person.
As far as political debates are concerned, the situation is not much simpler. “All my friends on the woke left are convinced that social media protects a white supremacist and misogynistic patriarchy, and have plenty of examples of where the platforms have unjustly deleted their posts (…) All my friends on the right are convinced that social networks are sold on a woke/Black Lives Matters/Marxist/LGBTQ agenda and they have plenty of examples of where networks have unfairly deleted their posts,” jokes the former CEO of Reddit. This shows that extremely diverse political opinions and visions of society can in fact perfectly express themselves on the major social networks today.
However, the latter finally admitted that they could not deal over the top with publications that would incite hatred and violence under the false pretext that they were “mere hosts”, and that they would therefore not be not responsible for the content circulating on their premises. Especially since social networks offer an extremely powerful sounding board.
The platforms have also, finally, begun to act more concretely on false information. We can see it today, these torrents of nonsense propagated by a tiny number of accounts, but cut to be as viral as possible, create new problems. Many European countries have taken time to measure the harmful power of this “fake news”. Moscow, he identified it a long time ago. And the lies that the Russian power has been spouting on the internet in recent weeks to confuse its opponents and justify its war, unfortunately, testify to its dangerous know-how.
Twitter and Musk have weapons in their arsenal
It remains to be seen now who, from the board of directors of Twitter or Elon Musk, will win the battle and be able to impose their vision. In any case, both have weapons in their arsenal. Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a shareholder in the network, showed his disinterest in Musk’s offer ($54.20 per share) saying that it “was very far from the intrinsic value of Twitter given its growth prospects. .” Last summer, the price of Twitter was, it is true, much higher (around $68). Several observers, however, believe that the price proposed by Musk is far from mediocre, given the evolution of the course in recent months (under $40 from January 2022 until the arrival of Elon Musk in the capital).
The billionaire’s offer could therefore interest shareholders, who may not all be ready to try the adventure to the end with Twitter, especially given the risks of a fall in the price in the event of the issue of new shares. . The boss of Tesla and SpaceX seems, moreover, to have a strong support among them in the person of the co-founder of Twitter Jack Dorsey. The latter has, in fact, published several tweets, strongly implying that Twitter’s board of directors didn’t always make good decisions.
The incumbent team is far from helpless in this battle, however, as their poison pill plan is proving quite attractive. If triggered, an investor paying $210 would receive $420 worth of shares, business lawyer Alon Kapen told Bloomberg. “What is unfortunate is that the CEO of Twitter did not take advantage of the situation to expose and defend his vision”, analyzes Jean-Christophe Liaubet, partner at Fabernovel, a company creating digital products and services. . Parag Agrawal does not yet have the public stature of a Jack Dorsey. It would have been an opportunity to build it. It missed. And if Elon Musk fails to buy Twitter, warns Jean-Christophe Liaubet, “management will probably be told at every wrong step, that with Elon Musk… it would have been much better”.
The chronicle of Cécile Maisonneuve