Musk Twitter/Opinion
Elon Musk has already secured $46.5 billion in funding for Twitter deal Image Credit: Ador Bustamante/Gulf News

Three decades ago, when the promise of personal computing seemed so alluring and full of possibilities about changing the future, addressing the work life balance and guaranteeing us all more time off as technology took over, we embraced it all.

Now most of us are slaves to our digital devices, checking in to make sure that we have answered emails, double-ticked messages, kept up to date with our social media feeds — and posted images on feeds that are suitably impressive for our friends and peers.

Has this technology thing, with phones and laptops, emails and a blurring of work and personal time as never before — is it all really worth it? Progress? Is Twitter and its limited character count really how we imagined the brave new technological future to be so many years ago?

Freedom of speech

For Elon Musk, the billionaire maker of Tesla electric cars and the man behind the Space-X programme determined to set us on course for the Moon and then Mars, Twitter has now caught his imagination. And his money. He’s offering $43 billion for the messaging medium — all in a bid to make a very pricey statement about freedom of speech.

The $43 billion bid is short on details about how the company might grow advertisers or monetise content. Maybe that’s the point. If you’re the world’s richest man — OK, some months, depending on share prices, Jeff Besos of Amazon might be, but what’s a couple of billion between the uber rich anyway — you can afford to put your money where your mouth is. Or your thumbs, which is the case with Twitter.

Experts warned that Musk’s vision for the platform, should he successfully acquire the company, could lead to major hurdles down the road — if only because he lacks experience in the worlds of advertising and social media. But at least he has money to throw at finding a solution.

The South African-born entrepreneur has built a loyal fan base on Twitter and his account is one of the most-watched with 82 million followers, just behind singer Lady Gaga and just ahead of Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India. That, of course, doesn’t necessarily translate into knowing how to drum up ad revenues or attracting new people to the platform.

'Poison pill' strategy

But Twitter is worried, adopting a so-called “poison pill” strategy that would make his potential purchase of shares from existing stockholders very difficult indeed. It would be preferable, thank you very much, if Musk just accepted the seat on the board it offered him when he reached about 10 per cent ownership of stock equity in the firm.

Neither Tesla nor SpaceX, nor Musk’s earlier enterprises such as PayPal, has significant moneymaking operations in ad sales that would give him the know-how to expand. If there’s one thing we know about Musk it’s that he’s never short of an opinion — and never afraid either to share them on Twitter

Since Twitter adopted that poison pill strategy, Musk’s potential takeover looks more difficult — but not impossible. And money is no object to a man whose personal wealth makes him richer than a third of the member states of the United Nations.

Musk simply doesn’t like to be muzzled and is willing to place a $43 billion bet that he can liberate the platform that has silenced the #RealDonaldTrump for spreading ‘alternative facts’ about those elections in 2020 in the United States. Yes, America has the First Amendment that guarantees the right to freedom of expression — but even there, freedom has its limits on Twitter. Just not if Musk takes over.

Europe and elsewhere? Well, that could be an issue. The European Union is looking at a new Digital Services Act that would require social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to monitor and remove problematic content in real time — with stiff penalties for failing to do so.

Man on a mission

Maybe, in this instance, Musk is behind the pack, wanting to get involved in an area of technology in which he has little practical experience. Then again, if someone said that there would be an electric car that might replace the internal combustion engine and overturn a century of automobile mechanics — or a reusable space rocket that would be a workhorse for the US agency that took a decade of national effort to put a man on the Moon …

Born and raised in South Africa 50 years ago, Musk spent time in Canada before finally moving to the US. He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania in physics and started getting his feet wet as a serial tech entrepreneur with early successes like Zip2 and

He was also instrumental in creating the company that became PayPal.

His astounding success has given rise to comparisons to other visionary businessmen such as Steve Jobs of Apple and Henry Ford who revolutionised the way cars were built and sold to the masses.

After an often difficult childhood, Musk developed a relentless work ethic — he is known to work as many as 80 to 120 hours per week — and a tenacious, single-minded vision.

Indeed, this whole Twitter saga is also being played out at a time when he faces a lawsuit in the US over his use of Twitter. Back in 2018, he mused on the platform that he was considering taking his electric vehicle company private at $420 per share and said he had funding secured to do so.

Stock regulators investigated and charged Musk with civil securities fraud as a result of those tweets. Civil suits followed, and damages from a shareholders’ class-action lawsuit could amount to billions of dollars that would be paid by Musk and Tesla to those who are members of the class. But heck, what’s a few billion when you’re sitting on a net worth of more than a third of nations in the world. Isn’t that something worth tweeting about …