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29 April, 2022

Elon Musk’s proposed acquisition of Twitter raises many very big questions. Questions that run to the heart of the way our society is structured, and the rules of public discourse. Chief amongst these, of course, is how to manage the myriad tensions that exist between the right to freedom of speech on one hand and the right to protection from abuse and misinformation on the other.


One thing is abundantly clear – managing this tension requires making many very different choices. What do you do when giving one person a voice may silence the expression (or indeed the whole career) of someone else’s voice? If you have a more or less anything goes approach to expression (even within legal boundaries), how do you stop the site from being overrun with nudity, propaganda, bullying and incitements to violence? And let’s not forget – what do you do about access for Trump? Adjudicating over matters such as these requires responsibility, balance and wisdom.


And for us, that makes the fact that this deal – if it goes through – means Musk will own Twitter outright as a private company particularly worrying. No board, no shareholders. More individual influence, fewer checks and balances. It reminds us that the very organisational form of the publicly owned company delivers advantages, particularly as we move towards a stakeholder-based capitalism, rather than one that puts shareholders above all else. It embeds accountability and shared responsibility for mutually agreed goals, reducing the power any single leader can wield.


Yes Musk will have to contend with other forces of influence – the employees who actually run the platform, the users who can leave if the experience fails to deliver, the regulators who are already raising arms. But when so much is at stake, we’ll take all the accountability we can get.

By Larissa Persons

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