Apr 26, 2022

Elon Musk buys Twitter.

Elon Musk buys Twitter.

Plus, a question about abortion.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 14 minutes.

We're covering Elon Musk's purchase of Twitter. Also, we have a guest response to a reader question about abortion.

Elon Musk at a Ted Talk in 2017. Steve Jurveston / Flickr
Elon Musk at a Ted Talk in 2017. Steve Jurveston / Flickr 

Quick hits.

  1. A New York judge is holding former President Donald Trump in civil contempt and fining him $10,000 a day until he complies with a subpoena for documents as part of the state's investigation into his company. (The fine)
  2. A Colorado climate activist died after setting himself on fire in front of the Supreme Court in an Earth Day protest against climate change. (The story)
  3. The Supreme Court seemed sympathetic to a former high school football coach who lost his job after leading postgame prayers at midfield. (The arguments)
  4. The White House is increasing access to Paxlovid, a Covid-19 drug that can reduce hospitalization by 90%. (The drug)
  5. President Biden will commute the sentences of 75 nonviolent drug offenders and issue three pardons, his first use of clemency powers. (The clemency)

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Today's topic.

Elon Musk buys Twitter. Yesterday, after weeks of news reports swirling about Musk's involvement with the social media giant, Twitter accepted his takeover bid. Musk has purchased the company for $54.20 per share, roughly $44 billion. The share price was a 38% premium on the company's price before Musk revealed in January he was the single largest shareholder. He financed the deal by putting up $21 billion of personal equity, and offering a third of his Tesla stake as collateral.

Earlier this month, we covered the news that Elon Musk was joining Twitter's board of directors and had bought a 9.2% stake in the company. A few days after that edition dropped, news broke that Musk was no longer planning to join the board, and there was speculation that his involvement in the company was going to be more limited than initially thought. Then, in a bout of whiplash, reports began breaking that he was attempting a full takeover bid. Shortly after, Twitter reportedly moved to adopt a "poison pill" shareholder rights plan that would allow the board to dilute shares and prevent Musk from buying the company outright.

And finally, on Sunday, it was reported that Twitter's 11-person board was moving to sell the company to Musk outright. The takeover was completed by Monday afternoon.

“I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means,” Musk wrote on Twitter.

As we previously reported, Twitter is a critical player in politics. It is the modern-day public town square: a central hub for political debates, one of the first places journalists share their reporting, and one of the few places ordinary citizens can interact directly with politicians and celebrities. In the last few years, Twitter has received even more attention because of their decisions on how to regulate their platform — including banning former President Donald Trump and suspending other prominent accounts. Numerous attempts to compete with the site, including Trump's "Truth Social," have so far failed to disrupt the space.

Musk's purchase of Twitter could have a major impact on how news, political opinion, and information spread online. His immediate challenges are issues like how to make the company more profitable, whether to allow former President Trump back on the platform, and what potential changes to its moderation policy could improve the network.

Below, we’ll take a look at some arguments from the right and left, then my take.


What the right is saying.

  • The right supports the sale, arguing Musk will be good for Twitter's future.
  • Some say the company needs more relaxed moderation policies and less liberal bias.
  • Others wish Musk luck, saying he faces serious challenges and internal resistance.

The New York Post said Elon Musk is good for Twitter, journalism and democracy.

"On one level, it’s no shock: The board members’ only real alternative was a flagrant violation of their fiduciary duty," the board said. "But it’s a striking setback to the forces of woke censorship and a win for the free exchange of ideas and information. The world’s richest man has come out strongly against the ideology animating Twitter’s efforts to suppress opinion its employees dislike and facts that hurt their favored causes. You can take our word for it. Our 100% accurate (and now New York Times-approved) reporting on the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop got us banned from Twitter in the runup to the 2020 election, greasing the wheels for papa Joe.

"So we’ve been watching this development ever since Musk’s March 27 tweet warning that Twitter’s 'failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy.' Assuming Twitter will soon 'adhere to free speech principles,' this is a clear win for democracy," the board added. "And while we can’t say how the business side will work out, Musk’s track record is pretty impressive. And it’s sure going to be fun to watch."

The National Review editorial board said "Godspeed to Elon Musk."

"The road ahead will not be easy. Many of Twitter’s employees will quit, while others will stay and resist Musk’s alterations," the board wrote. "After the decision was announced, Bloomberg reported that executives were so nervous about the prospect of employees 'going rogue' that they halted all software updates. Outside of Twitter, too, the pressure on Musk will be intense. For a good example of the double standard that obtains, consider that when Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post, Business Insider described the acquisition as 'a fascinating cultural transition in America,' whereas when Elon Musk bought Twitter, the outlet described it as 'a chilling new threat.' Musk, as ever, is Schrödinger’s billionaire.

"Were we designing the web from scratch, we would never choose to put Twitter in its current position," the editors wrote. "Twitter’s format destroys nuance, encourages hyperbole, and all but begs its users to form mobs. That it has become as popular as it has among the opinion-making class cannot be a good thing in the long run. But it is here now, and the important question is whether it can be made better than it currently is. Elon Musk clearly believes that it can, and says that he looks 'forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock' its potential. Godspeed."

"What a gamble for Mr. Musk," The Wall Street Journal editorial board said.

"According to the Journal, the financing proposal he announced last week includes $21 billion in personal equity. That amounts to roughly 10% of his net worth, going by the Forbes estimate. As collateral on debt, Mr. Musk would also pledge about a third of his Tesla stake. It isn’t every day the world’s richest man makes a bet like this," the board wrote. "If Mr. Musk can strike a more satisfying balance on content moderation, maybe he’s right about Twitter’s hidden value. Current management is correct that most regular social-media users don’t want a daily bath of Russian bots, jihadist propaganda, noxious harassment and so forth. Ditto for advertisers, who represent about 90% of the company’s revenue. Yet Silicon Valley’s tech lords have decided they want to be arbiters of speech on political topics like climate change and the origins of Covid.

"The hyperbole surrounding Mr. Musk’s Twitter foray has been curious, hilarious, and sometimes both. Mr. Musk 'is increasingly behaving like a movie supervillain,' an Axios writer said. A former CEO of the social site Reddit called for government regulation 'to prevent rich people from controlling our channels of communication.' That line was published in an op-ed at the Washington Post, which is owned by the noted pauper Jeff Bezos," the board noted.


What the left is saying.

  • The left is worried about the sale, saying Musk looks poised to take an already toxic platform and make it even worse.
  • Some argue that his own resumé should be concerning.
  • Others say Musk may be in over his head.

In The New York Times, Greg Bensinger said "Twitter will be a scary place" under Elon Musk.

"Twitter has never been a place for rational, nuanced speech. Expect it to get much, much worse. The decision by Twitter’s board of directors on Monday afternoon to accept a takeover bid from Elon Musk means the company thinks the social media company would be best served by the ownership of a man who uses the platform to slime his critics, body-shame people, defy securities laws and relentlessly hawk cryptocurrencies," Bensinger wrote. "Mr. Musk has not been a responsible caretaker for the companies he already oversees: Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink and the Boring Company. In the early months of the pandemic, Mr. Musk thumbed his nose at health officials — whose shelter-in-place orders he called 'fascist' — by forcing workers at Tesla back on the job, in violation of local health regulations. And Tesla has been dogged for years by allegations of racist abuse, discrimination and sexual harassment at its factory in Fremont, Calif., where six women say they suffered catcalling and unwanted touching and advances.

"Several former SpaceX interns made similar allegations about a lax attitude toward sexual harassment by supervisors and peers, The New York Times reported. The company has said it is investigating the allegations. A California regulator, meanwhile, recently sued the company over reports of racial discrimination against hundreds of employees, including a lack of promotion opportunities and the use of racial slurs by supervisors," Bensinger wrote. "According to a civil suit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing in California Superior Court in Alameda County, Mr. Musk told workers to be 'thick skinned' about suffering racist harassment while on the job. Tesla has denied the allegations. No wonder many Twitter employees are aghast at the prospect of Mr. Musk leading the company."

In Bloomberg, Timothy O'Brien said Musk is the wrong leader for Twitter's vital mission.

"Musk still hasn’t provided meaningful details about what, exactly, he will do to rev up Twitter’s engines," O'Brien said. "He has been an effective and bold leader at Tesla — but Tesla makes electric vehicles; it’s not a media company. Managerial prowess often doesn’t translate across different types of businesses. And media companies have found the digital era challenging, with advertising evaporating or finding new channels and subscription revenue difficult to corral. Media companies also provide a public service. In an ideal world, responsible media companies keep users informed, monitor how power is used and how society evolves and provide forums for ideas.

"Musk has used social media to play games with his business interests, troll those he doesn’t like and run afoul of the law and regulators," O'Brien added. "None of that is a recipe for enlightened media management. As we’ve also learned from Facebook’s and Twitter’s myriad travails monitoring propaganda and disinformation, social media companies need to do a better job of vetting the information on their platforms. Musk shows no sign of being up to that task. Yes, it’s compelling to watch Musk do his thing and interesting (and often disturbing) to see how much he breaks along the way, but media companies matter. They shape public dialogue and private conversations. And the price of buffoonery and delinquency is greater than $43 billion."

Alex Kirshner said Musk just bought a $44 billion pain in the ass.

"I don’t know what a Musk-owned Twitter will look like in practice," Kirshner wrote. "Conservative media types are excited about it and seem to have the understanding that it will make Twitter even friendlier than it has been to anti-vaccine and pro-insurrectionist talking points, while achieving the dual goal of Owning the Libs. That would make Twitter a more hectic place, and it would affect elite political discourse in ways that would likely be bad. But you can’t knock down a building that’s already rubble. Hopefully, individual users could still block and mute their way to some measure of sanity and/or protection from harassment or worse. However, for many users, this has been a perpetual challenge even with Twitter’s limited guardrails.

"Musk sounds excited about dictating Twitter’s moderation policies. That is going to be a short honeymoon," Kirshner said. "Most moderation fights won’t rise to Musk’s level... At some point, a high-profile fight will arise over whether some conservative superstar should get a Twitter ban... Let’s say it’s some white supremacist who leaves a bomb at a government building in an attempt to start a race war, or whatever you have to do in 2026 to become a far-right social media darling during Donald Trump’s second term. Musk might not ban that person—bombs are a form of speech, Fox News hosts might argue to him—but he’s eventually going to ban someone with a giant, insane following. At that point, his friendship with that particular segment of Twitter will be over."


My take.

In my last edition on this, when Musk was joining the board and buying up a stake in Twitter, I wrote supportively about the move:

“Best of all, though, is the simple fact that Musk loves Twitter. He has a bigger and more interactive presence on the platform than former CEO Jack Dorsey and just about any other Twitter employee I know of. He engages random people, celebrities, politicians, and more. He shares knowledge, comments on stuff he probably shouldn't, breaks news, starts controversies, and posts silly, meaningless content. In essence, he uses the platform exactly the way the average active user does. It’s kind of akin to a professional sports team allowing one (very, very rich) superfan onto their coaching staff to have some input. It could go wrong, sure, but there’s something about it that I find really appealing; it feels like the kind of person who should have an influence on the platform's future.”

I think this analogy still holds, except what is happening now is a little different. Rather than a sports team bringing a superfan onto the coaching staff, they are selling the whole franchise to that fan. That's not ideal.

Look, I don't have to even debate the content of Musk's views, whether he is really a champion of free speech, or if I like his politics to say this: Musk has better things to do than run Twitter, like carrying civilization into a more electric future. He has zero experience running a company that moderates content and information. And, in the most simple terms possible, I do not like the concept of the world's richest man buying the modern day public square. That is not something that makes me feel good about the state of speech or the dissemination of information or the balances of power or, for that matter, democracy.

Rich people buying up news outlets and information centers is oligarchic, not democratic.

Yes, I know. Mark Zuckerberg owns Facebook. He also created it. Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post. He also stays out of it. A lot of rich people own news outlets, but we hope they don't control them. Go read The Post's coverage of Amazon unions and let me know if you think Bezos is calling the shots in the newsroom (I doubt it). Michael Bloomberg may run the Bloomberg opinion section and Rupert Murdoch may run Fox News but those are more the exceptions than the rules; and even so, I never liked America's wealthiest buying up its news outlets. When other countries have social media or news outlets owned by rich billionaires with overt political views, we call it undemocratic or state media or oligarchy. It isn’t democratic there and it isn’t democratic here.

Additionally, Twitter isn't a newsroom. It's an influential information exchange center that has an outsized impact on the reach of newsrooms’ content.  I liked Musk on the Twitter board to help diversify it ideologically — in the political sense, the tech sense, and the moderation sense. I wanted that because Twitter has made several moderation mistakes and regularly enforces its rules unevenly. I figured someone like Elon Musk in the room would be inventive and lead the company toward a more clear and even-handed moderation approach. I do not like the idea of him owning the company outright. They are two very different things.

All that being said, let's not overreact. If you're a Twitter employee, given Musk's track record in employee relations, I might be worried. But as for users, so far, the only goals Musk has laid out publicly are to authenticate all humans (a great goal), allow longer tweets (fine with me), eliminate spam bots (an excellent goal), add an edit button (not a big deal, and was already on Twitter's roadmap), and adhere to some kind of "strict free speech."

That last one is obviously the kicker, but it's not as if Twitter is going to abandon its moderation standards overnight or at all. Every social media platform has moderation rules; the key is actually enforcing them. For all the bluster about being a free speech absolutist, Musk has also said, “I’m not saying that I have all the answers” about regulating speech, and that he's inclined toward “timeouts” for rule-breakers, which “are better than permanent bans.” He also said “a social media platform’s policies are good if the most extreme 10% on left and right are equally unhappy.” I could get behind that.

Either way, there’s going to be a learning curve. Besides, any changes he wants to institute will take months if not years, and require updates, support from employees, and — ultimately — user acceptance. He can't just press buttons and make things go differently overnight.

I love Twitter. It's my favorite social media platform. It is how I was able to reach a large chunk of the Tangle audience, it has been integral in spreading my work, and without it there probably is no Tangle. I've made some fun internet friends along the way, gotten to learn a lot directly from experts with no filter, and had a front row seat to amazing stories as they unfolded in real time.

It is also the most toxic space I operate in. It's full of horrid anonymous people who send me death threats and anti-Semitic jokes, bots that try to spam stories into existence, and world leaders who, by Twitter's own rules, should not be allowed on the platform at all.

I don't know how Musk is going to solve all that. I don't really have faith he will. For all his wealth and incredible ambition he can seem pathologically unserious. I wish yet another important information center wasn't owned by another billionaire. I wish he'd spend 100% of his time on Tesla and space exploration, and his billions of dollars on any of a number of more worthwhile causes. He does not seem to be the right guy for this job. But I'm not going to judge the changes before they begin to happen.

Have thoughts about "my take?" You can reply to this email and write in or leave a comment if you're a subscriber.


Your questions, answered.

Q: Suppose you have a couple with one very young child, and that child has fallen mortally ill. There is a medical procedure that may save the child's life, but it requires the participation of one of the parents. The child will definitely die if they do not undergo the procedure. Can we morally and/or legally force either parent to participate in the procedure? If not, then how is the case of abortion different? If so, then can we force people to give up blood, organs, tissue, etc. to sick people?

— Chloe, Kansas City

Tangle: Hey Chloe! This is a good question, but it's not one I'm best equipped to answer. As I sometimes do, I decided to tag in a guest responder for this one, and I felt it'd be best to ask an anti-abortion activist (which I am not) to make their case. So I asked Josh Brahm, a Tangle reader and the president of the pro-life "Equal Rights Institute" to answer it for you. I should note that I don't really agree with his framing here, but I'll argue with him on that via email. :)

Josh Brahm: This is a great question and highlights something I’ve noticed in my conversations with pro-choice people for the last decade, which is that they aren’t primarily pro-choice because they believe the fetal human isn’t a person, but because they believe the government shouldn’t tell a woman what to do with her body, or something in her body, even if that thing is a person.

The most famous version of the hypothetical story in the reader question is Judith Jarvis Thomson’s violinist thought experiment. Thomson concedes (for sake of argument) fetal personhood and argues that a woman should have the right to an abortion even if the unborn is a person. For that reason, I'll refer to the unborn as persons for the sake of this answer, but I know that if the unborn are not persons, then abortion should be legal. For more on a secular defense of fetal personhood, check out our article, Arguing From Equality: The Personhood of Human Embryos.

The short answer is that no, I do not believe that in this thought experiment we should force parents to participate in the procedure, but I do believe that abortion should be illegal unless the mother's life is at risk. So what's the morally relevant difference between these two cases? I think the most important one is the distinction between not helping someone and directly killing them.

I think there's a very understandable reason that many people are pro-choice, which is that they are thinking of pregnancy being like most other cases where we can either choose to help someone or not.

For example, if my friend Isaac Saul was dying of kidney failure and asked me to donate one of my kidneys to him, I hypothetically have three options:

1: I can choose to help him, by donating my kidney;

2: I can choose to not help him, by keeping both kidneys;

3: I could directly kill him, say, to spare myself the embarrassment of refusing his request.

Those are three distinct options. However, I think it’s pretty obvious that the third option—directly killing Isaac—shouldn’t be a legal option for me. So, that leaves me with two legal options: help or not help.

But in the case of pregnancy, you only have two options to start with:

1: You can either help, by carrying the pregnancy to term, or at least until the fetal person is viable;

2: You can hire a doctor to directly kill the fetal person through an abortion.

There is no third option. The option just to “not help” doesn’t exist!

This is one of the main problems with Thomson's famous violinist thought experiment: it pretends that abortion is merely unplugging from a sick person or choosing not to help them. But abortion directly kills a (typically) healthy person.I do not believe that we should legally force people to help others, especially if it would put yourself in danger, unless you’re a lifeguard or something and it’s your job. But I do believe that we should never be allowed to directly kill people, outside of very extreme cases like self-defense. (Note: Josh discusses whether abortion qualifies as self-defense in a full version of this exchange.) If help and kill are the only options available, and I think killing should always be illegal except for in self-defense, then I think that abortion has to be wrong, too. I don’t think that we should have an obligation to always help innocent, vulnerable people, but I do think we have an obligation not to kill innocent, vulnerable people.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.


A story that matters.

Congress appears to be closing in on legislation that will put guardrails on tech giants' collection, storage and use of consumers' personal information, The Wall Street Journal reported. After years of fits and starts, there is newfound optimism that online privacy protections will finally become federal law. The developments come after public disclosures of the harms social media does to teenagers. One potential regulation would allow consumers to access their online personal information with the ability to make changes or deletions, or even move the information from one platform to another. Congress also wants to allow consumers to opt out of sharing data with third parties. The Journal has the story.


Numbers.

  • 206 million. The number of daily active users on Twitter.
  • 1.93 billion. The number of daily active users of Facebook.
  • 10%. The percentage of Twitter users that creates 80% of tweets from all U.S. adults.
  • 36%. The percentage of Twitter users who identified as Democrats in 2019, according to Pew.
  • 30%. The percentage of U.S. adults who identified as Democrats in 2019, according to Pew.
  • 85.1 million. The number of followers Elon Musk has on Twitter.
  • 114. The number of people Elon Musk is following on Twitter.

Don't forget.

We need your help!


Have a nice day.

A treatment plant in Oregon is turning sewage into an endless supply of green energy. Clackamas County's Tri-City Water Resource Recovery Facility has been operating for seven months, pumping out renewable power produced from methane, a natural byproduct of human waste. The loop of green energy is a powerful example of how waste can become a product we benefit from rather than something that sucks up resources as we try to dispose of it. Now, the more waste produced around this plant, the more energy they are able to generate. The buildings where the waste is processed are now running on the energy it produces, and they estimate they'll save $319,000 on electricity and $99,500 on heat in the first year alone.

Our good news partner Good Good Good has the story, plus more feel-good news. You can find it here.


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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.

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