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Elon Musk is now the biggest stakeholder in Twitter

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has acquired a 9% stake in Twitter to become its biggest stakeholder while joining other critics in questioning the social media platform’s dedication to free speech and the First Amendment.

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Musk’s ultimate aim in acquiring 73.5 million shares, worth about $3 billion, isn’t clear. Yet in late March Musk, who has 80 million Twitter followers and is active on the site, questioned free speech on Twitter and whether the platform is undermining democracy.

In years past, Twitter and other social platforms have taken fire for allowing harmful speech ranging from incitement to violence to coordinated harassment and racial abuse. More recently, these platforms have made concerted efforts to rein in such behavior, often drawing criticism similar to Musk’s from the political right. Both Twitter and Facebook faced blowback after suspending the accounts run by former President Donald Trump following the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection last year.

It’s unclear just when Musk bought the stake. A U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing made public on Monday says the event triggering the filing happened March 14. Musk has also raised the possibility with his massive and loyal Twitter following, that he could create a rival social media network.

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Industry analysts and legal experts say Musk could begin advocating for changes at Twitter immediately if he chooses. In a note to investors, CFRA Analyst Angelo Zino wrote that Twitter could be viewed as an acquisition target because the value of its shares have been falling since early last year.

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey stepped down as CEO in November. Musk’s stake in Twitter is now more than four times the size of Dorsey’s, who had been the largest individual shareholder.

“Musk’s actual investment is a very small percentage of his wealth, and an all-out buyout should not be ruled out,” wrote Zino, who covers Twitter and social media.

Musk could see Twitter as an investment with big growth ahead, or he could have noninvestment reasons for the purchase, such as buying to make sure the platform doesn’t restrain his speech, said Erik Gordon, a law and business professor at the University of Michigan.

“What he could be worried about is if enough of his tweets start to look like disinformation, that Twitter says ‘we’re doing our job against disinformation.’” Gordon said. No CEO would refuse to take a call from the company’s top shareholder, so the purchase gives Musk access to Twitter’s top management, he said.

Musk has not spoken specifically about any Twitter rule changes he might push, but the social media platform’s history of suspensions and bans is well documented.

Trump’s suspension from both Twitter and Facebook has raised difficult questions about free speech in a social media industry dominated by a few tech giants — an issue that Trump and conservative media have seized upon. There was broad praise for Musk from those circles Monday.

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Michael Flynn, the retired general who served briefly as Donald Trump’s national security adviser, and who was suspended from Twitter in January 2021, sent Musk some free advice via Telegram.

“Hey Elon, how about letting all of those dropped from twitter for being America First and Pro-Trump back on Twitter!!!,” Flynn wrote.

Suddenly, Twitter’s biggest stakeholder is Tesla’s Elon Musk  The Associated Press

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