ANTHONY: Elon Musk Is Not Going To Fundamentally Change Twitter

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Mark Anthony Contributor
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Editor’s note: We endeavor to bring you the top voices on current events representing a range of perspectives. Below is a column arguing that Elon Musk will not fundamentally change how Twitter operates. You can find a counterpoint here, where Jon Schweppe argues that Musk will help make Twitter more open to free speech.

Elon Musk has held controlling interest in Twitter for about a month now, and all we have to show for it is a poll on whether to add a button so we can edit our tweets.

No reinstatement of Donald Trump. Not even a reinstatement of Alex Berenson or Robert Malone or any of those who have been writing about the non-government-approved version of Jan. 6.

There’s been a lot of fear and foreboding among Twitter users on the left about the possibility of Trump’s posting privileges being restored and about how they might have to decamp to some other site if he comes back to Twitter. And there’s been talk from Musk over his abiding love of free speech and his commitment to shake things up.

He may ultimately buck to public pressure and reinstate those accounts. But a look at Musk’s past suggests that, aside from the edit button, his move to buy 9.2% of Twitter stock – a stake more than twice as high as former CEO Jack Dorsey’s – may not be the free speech game-changer those users fear.

Yes, he did declare himself a “free speech absolutist” when he announced his Starlink satellites would not ban Russian media sources, as requested by other governments in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And yes, he has asked Twitter followers for advice on what should be done, “given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square,” to ensure a free exchange of ideas.

But he reportedly has fired employees who disagree with him. He has told hostile questioners on earnings calls that he won’t tolerate “boring, boneheaded questions” and interrupted the NASA administrator at a press conference to tell the reporter asking questions to “move on.”

He’s been accused of racial harassment and discrimination by employees at his Tesla plant in California. An administrative law judge has said he tried to sabotage efforts to unionize factory workers at the plant.

The free speech absolutist will go to significant lengths to punish and control dissent.

In 2008, an engineer with Tesla named Peng Zhou leaked to media that the company’s cash balance had sunk to $9 million. Musk hired an outside IT analyst to go through the company’s emails and instant messages and a private investigator to lift fingerprints from the copy machine.

When that didn’t work, he pasted the text of the letter into a Word document to determine the exact size of the file, then checked the printer activity logs to find a file of exactly that size. Fortunately for Musk, the employee had printed out the file. Musk approached him, forced him to confess and apologize, then fired him from the company even though the claim was true.

He then set out to ensure these type disclosures don’t happen again. He demanded employees sign a new, stricter non-disclosure agreement. Only the agreement itself was not the point.

He customized each agreement, changing “I’m” to “I am” and making similar alterations so employees would have a detectible fingerprint for everything they sent from their computers. With that, the “free speech absolutist” essentially began spying on all his employees at Tesla.

The scheme blew up on him because he didn’t tell his fellow executives. His corporate counsel unwittingly sent the copy of the letter he had received to all the company employees, which allowed them to see the differences Musk had inserted into the forms and provided them a copy of an untraceable form.

Then there was Martin Tripp. An employee at Musk’s battery factory in Nevada, Tripp told Business Insider that Tesla was scrapping or reworking up to 40% of the raw materials at the Gigafactory plant and the inefficiency had cost the company $150 million.

Musk issued a staff email that called Tripp’s leak “extensive and damaging sabotage” and implied he had shared the info with others. He accused the reporter involved of being on the payroll of short sellers and of having bribed Tripp for information on Tesla.

Two weeks later, deputies in Storey County, Nevada, went to Tripp’s house after Tesla’s security department advised them he was planning a mass shooting at Gigafactory. Deputies found him unarmed and in tears and informed superiors he was no threat. Others at the plant say this is part of a campaign to discredit and/or destroy Tripp.

Employers have the right to demand loyalty and to punish those who leak company secrets or criticize the company to the press. These are not debating societies, and remarks by disgruntled workers can negatively affect the worth of the companies.

But those who think that Musk will transform Twitter into a true public square for the free exchange of ideas can relax. The new boss doesn’t look any more committed to free speech than the old boss.

Mark Anthony is a former Silicon Valley Executive with Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR). Mark is now the host of the nationally syndicated radio called The Patriot and The Preacher Show. Find out more at patriotandpreachershow.com.