Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey has backed Elon Musk’s controversial $44bn (£34bn) takeover of the micro-blogging platform, describing the billionaire as “the singular solution I trust”.
The 45-year-old, who co-founded the company in 2006 and floated it on the New York Stock Exchange in 2013, said it has been “owned” by Wall Street and that Musk’s deal struck on Monday to take it private was the “correct first step”.
However Dorsey, who stepped down as Twitter chief executive in November and will receive a $978m payout for his 2.4% stake when the deal is completed later this year, said that ultimately “in principle I don’t believe anyone should own or run Twitter ”.
“It wants to be a public good at a protocol level, not a company,” he said, in a series of tweets. “Solving for the problem of it being a company however, Elon is the singular solution I trust. I trust his mission to extend the light of consciousness.”
Parag Agrawal, who took over from Dorsey as chief executive, has told staff that their jobs are only safe for about six months it will take to get the deal is done.
“Once the deal closes, we don’t know which direction the platform will go,” said Agrawal, who is in line for a $38.7m pay package due to a “change of control” clause in his contract.
Human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch raised concerns that hate speech may be allowed to flourish after the change in ownership. Musk, who is the world’s richest person, has described himself as a “free speech absolutist” and has criticized Twitter’s moderation policies.
“While Elon Musk is an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) card-carrying member and one of our most significant supporters, there’s a lot of danger having so much power in the hands of any one individual,” said the ACLU executive director, Anthony Rosemary.
Dorsey tweeted that Musk’s plan to create a platform that is “maximally trusted and broadly inclusive” was the “right one”.
Donald Trump, who was permanently banned from Twitter after the US Capitol riots last January, has said he would not return to the platform even if Musk allowed him. Musk is said to favor temporary “time outs” for users who breach Twitter’s policies, instead of bans.
Musk sealed the $44bn deal to buy Twitter after a dramatic few weeks of speculation about the platform’s future, triggered by Musk’s emergence as its largest single shareholder on 4 April. He then declared a takeover bid on 14 April, offering to buy all Twitter’s shares for $54.20 each.
At first, Twitter’s board seemed opposed, enacting an anti-takeover measure known as a “poison pill” that could have made a prohibitively expensive takeover attempt. But its initial reluctance to accept a transaction appeared to fade after Musk confirmed a funding package for the deal – including $21bn of his own money, alongside debt funding from Morgan Stanley and other financial institutions – and shareholders warmed to it.
The Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, the world’s second richest person, has questioned whether China might pressure Twitter’s new owner to suppress criticism of the country on the platform.
Bezos was responding to a post from a New York Times reporter who pointed out the importance of China to Tesla, which is run by Musk, including the fact that it is the electric carmaker’s second-largest market.
“Interesting question,” Bezos tweeted. “Did the Chinese government just gain a bit of leverage over the town square?”. Musk called Twitter the “digital town square” after striking a deal on Monday.
Bezos subsequently clarified his view saying that Chinese pressure was unlikely to result in censorship. “My own answer to this question is probably not,” he said. “The more likely outcome in this regard is complexity in China for Tesla, rather than censorship at Twitter. But we’ll see. Musk is extremely good at navigating this kind of complexity.”
Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, said there was no basis for speculation that Beijing could try to use leverage over the electric carmaker to influence content on the social media site.
Ross Gerber, an investor in Tesla described as close to Musk, tweeted that Musk is “more powerful than countries now”, adding Twitter and its hundreds of millions of users to a portfolio that also includes the aerospace company Space X.
Musk has pledged to clean up Twitter bots on the platform, which has been used to attempt to manipulate big events such as political elections.
However, Vivian Schiller, the former head of news and journalism partnerships at Twitter, fears that Musk may not realize the challenges of content moderation.
“I think he may just not realize that the kind of decisions that are going to have to be made, ultimately rolling up to him, are incredibly complicated,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “It’s easy to say ‘I believe in free speech’, but what do you do when you’re talking about incitement to violence, hate speech or other forms of really troubling content?”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism