Elon Musk published a note addressed to Twitter advertisers on his account this morning, the day before his court-ordered deadline to close his $44 billion acquisition of the social media platform. In the short address, Musk — who is currently in San Francisco and spending the week at Twitter HQ — explains to Twitter advertisers why he is motivated to buy the platform.
“There has been much speculation about why I bought Twitter and what I think about advertising,” Musk wrote. “Most of it has been wrong.”
Musk repeated some of the primary talking points that he has been stating since he first announced the acquisition in April. He believes in Twitter’s potential as a “common digital town square,” but he is worried that “social media will splinter into far right wing and far left wing echo chambers” as traditional media continues toward its “relentless pursuit of clicks.”
“That is why I bought Twitter. I didn’t do it because it would be easy. I didn’t to it to make more money,” he explained. “I did it to try to help humanity, whom I love.”
None of these declarations are particularly illuminating — Musk said in April that he “doesn’t care about the economics” of buying Twitter. Spending $44 billion on a struggling business isn’t the greatest business move, but it’s something that you can accomplish out of a sense of warped obligation to humanity when you are the richest guy on the planet (and eventually on our neighboring red planet too, probably).
But Musk actually slipped in something here that is mildly reassuring, though it’s generally a challenge to take him at his word.
Musk has continually touted the importance of free speech in his acquisition of Twitter, even mentioning it in his letter to the company board when he first announced his intent to acquire the platform.
“I invested in Twitter as I believe in its potential to be the platform for free speech around the globe, and I believe free speech is a societal imperative for a functioning democracy,” Musk wrote in April. “However, since making my investment I now realize the company will neither thrive nor serve this societal imperative in its current form.”
“… Twitter has extraordinary potential,” he added. “I will unlock it.”
Yet Twitter’s existing content guidelines aren’t as stringent as his declarations would lead you to believe. Beyond prohibiting illegal activity, the platform bans hateful conduct (attacking or threatening people based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, etc.), depictions of graphic violence, promotion of suicide or self-harm, etc. The platform doesn’t even censor pornographic content, so long as it doesn’t appear in a live video or a profile header.
In today’s letter, though, Musk seems to be somewhat aware of the fact that “anything goes!” is a content moderation policy that’s doomed to fail.
“Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences!” he wrote. “In addition to adhering to the laws of the land, our platform must be warm and welcoming to all, where you can choose your desired experience according to your preferences, just as you can choose, for example, to see movies or play video games ranging from all ages to mature.”
It’s unclear how he plans to make Twitter “warm and welcoming,” though, without flouting content guidelines that aim to protect the most vulnerable users on the platform.
He ends the letter by telling advertisers that Twitter aspires to “be the most respected advertising platform in the world that strengthens your brand and grows your enterprise.”
Finally, I have to take a cheap shot… Musk did not use alt text when posting these three text-heavy screenshots of his letter to advertisers this morning. To be fair, most people I follow don’t regularly use alt text (but they should!), so this is a good chance to call our presumptive bird app overlord in. Hey, Elon! If you really want Twitter to be a public town square, you should use alt text to make sure that people with vision-related disabilities can engage in the conversation too!