Only hours after making an offer to buy the social media giant Twitter outright, taking the public company private, Elon Musk gave an interview at TED 2022, and answered questions about his motivations.
He was asked in the event that "the board does not accept your offer, you've said you won't go higher, is there a plan B?" Musk said there was, but that he was not prepared to announce it at this time.
"So, you know," the interviewer began, "a few hours ago, you made an offer to buy Twitter. Why?"
"I think it's very important for there to be an inclusive arena for free speech," he said. "Twitter has become kind of the de facto town square. So it's just really important that people have the both the reality and the perception that they're able to speak freely within the bounds of the law and so one of the things that I believe Twitter should do is open source the algorithm and make any changes to people's tweets or their emphasize or de-emphasized that action should be made apparent so you anyone can see that has been taken. So there's no sort of behind-the-scenes manipulation, either algorithmically or manually."
Musk said that he was prepared to take the blame in the event that things go wrong, in the event that the purchase goes through.
"I think it's important to the function of democracy, for the function of the United States as a free country. And in many other countries and actually to help freedom in the world more broadly than the US.
"I think there's the risk, civilizational risk is decreased if Twitter, the more we can increase the trust of Twitter as a public platform. And so, I do think this will be somewhat painful and I'm not sure that I will actually be able to, to acquire it. And I should also say that the intent is to retain as many shareholders as is allowed by the law in a private company, which I think has run 2,000 or so. So, it's not like it's definitely not, not from the standpoint of let me figure out how to monopolize or maximize my ownership of Twitter. We'll try to bring along as many shoulders as we, as we're allowed to," he said, noting that he could technically afford the full buy.
"This is a this is not a way to sort of make money. You know, I think this is, it's just that I think this is just— my strong intuitive sense is that having a public platform that is maximally trusted, and broadly inclusive, is extremely important to the future of civilization. I don't care about the economics at all," Musk said.
The interview asked "You've described yourself Elon as a free speech absolutist. But does that mean that there's literally nothing that people can't say, and it's okay?"
"Well, I think, obviously, Twitter or any forum is bound by the laws of the country that it operates in," Musk said. "So obviously, there are some limitations on free speech in the US. And of course, Twitter would have to abide by those rules sets out so you can't incite people to violence like that the adult incitement to violence you can't do the equivalent of crying fire in a movie theater, for example," he said, bringing up the classic example of things one cannot legally say.
After discussing examples of of violent online speech, Musk said that "Twitter should match the laws of the country. And really, you know, there's an obligation to do that." He said that what's really needed on the platform is transparency, for users to know what decisions are being made, why, and who is making them.
"But going beyond that, and having it be unclear who's making what changes to who to what to wear, having tweets sort of mysteriously be promoted and demoted, with no insight into what's going on. Having a blackbox algorithm promote some things and other not other things. I think this can be quite dangerous. So the idea of opening the algorithm is a huge deal.
"And I think many people would, would welcome that, of understanding exactly how it's making the decision and could critique it and, I think like, the code should be on GitHub, you know, so people can look through it and say, like, 'I see a problem here,' 'I don't agree with this,'" he said.
When in doubt, Musk said, "we would want to err on the side of, if in doubt, let the speech, let it exist." If it were a gray area, or controversial, "I would say let the tweet exist," he said.
"I'm not saying I have all the answers here," Musk said. "But I do think that we want to be just very reluctant to delete things and have just be very cautious" with bans and suspensions, preferring temporary timeouts.
"I think we wanted to really have like so the perception and reality that speech is free as reasonably possible. And a good sign as to whether there's free speech is is is someone you don't like allowed to say something you don't like. And if that is the case, then we have free speech. And it's damn annoying when someone you don't like something you don't like. That is a sign of a healthy, functioning, free speech situation," Musk said to applause.
As to the critique that he's too rich to own Twitter, Musk said "I think it's very important that the algorithm be open-sourced and that any manual adjustments be identified like surfaced tweet, if somebody did something to a tweet," he said, there would be "information attached to it that action was taken."
The widely controversial topic of an edit button was raised, and Musk said that a good way to handle that would be that retweets and likes would be zeroed out so that those who retweeted or liked it originally wouldn't be seen to have retweeted something they hadn't read after it had been edited by the original poster.
Musk would try to eliminate spam bots and armies, and said that in many cases he issues tweets while on the toilet, then said he was "oversharing."
Musk said that he has "sufficient assets" to complete the purchase.