The informational clash between Elon Musk and Twitter

The informational clash between Elon Musk and Twitter

The informational clash between Elon Musk and Twitter

The last American presidential elections in November 2020 demonstrated more than ever the central and determining role of social networks for the conception and development of opinion groups, as well as for the ideological and operational reinforcement of social or political groups already constituted. But this last American presidential election was strongly marked by the emergence of a sort of “thought police” which worked more in favor of the Democrats and which seemed to have taken over the leaders and the opinion leaders of the republican camp. By launching an assault on Twitter, Elon Musk demonstrated that a critical discourse fueled by the errors committed by Donald Trump could be taken from the back of its moralizing legitimacy, because of the demagogic drifts of its cognitive points of support in most powerful appearance.

An a priori impregnable wokist trend position

Twitter has a de facto quasi-monopoly position and plays a strategic role in American political and societal debate in particular. Twitter, through its arbitrations on freedom of expression and the management of “fake news” has demonstrated a liberal prism (in the American sense of the term) with a “wokist” tendency.
Following the post-election incidents on the Capitol, in early January 2021, Twitter made the decision to terminate President Trump’s Twitter account. Decision with a colossal impact within the United States of America, but also around the world.
The self-proclaimed global model of freedom of expression and democratic debate American version, thus finding itself devalued and muzzled by the action of a private company.

Elon Musk, genius entrepreneur, is a regular on social networks, and Twitter in particular. On several occasions, he has proven his taste for this medium and his ease in using it, mostly in the context of promoting his economic activities, in particular to highlight the achievements of Tesla, Space X or the revolutionary potential crypto currencies and bitcoin in particular.
Presenting himself regularly as a libertarian, and therefore as a fervent defender of freedom of expression, Musk has perfectly integrated the spectacularity of modern societal debate, where buzz and amnesia follow one another. His positions on Twitter have on several occasions influenced the stock market price of Tesla or Space X or the valuation of Bitcoin.

Exploiting the Contradictions of a New Thought Police by Elon Musk

In early spring 2022, Elon Musk announced his desire to buy Twitter, arguing his desire to restore the platform’s ideological neutrality and above all to guarantee freedom of expression. The outbreak of the Russian invasion of Ukraine a few weeks earlier, and the approach of the “mid-term” elections in the fall of 2022 providing a field of social and political controversy favorable to the platform and for Musk a window for its media offensive. Elon Musk then permanently occupied the global media field and Twitter in particular. Two main axes have structured its communication:

  • Promote the ethical nature of his career, his actions and his personality in order to establish in public opinion the idea that his desire to take over Twitter is an action motivated by concern for the common good and the defense of humanist values ​​such as freedom of speech. He regularly promoted his actions in support of the Ukrainian government, in particular the provision of his Starlink satellite network for the maintenance of Ukrainian communications. He also considerably reduced his position on crypto-currencies, a sector in disarray since the start of the war in Ukraine.
  • Criticize the management of Twitter by attacking on several axes. First with regard to breaches of network neutrality. To do this, he focused on ousting President Trump from the platform, exposing this action as a serious attack on freedom of expression and political debate. This argument found strong approval in American public opinion. Then, by leading an offensive on the economic and technical management of Twitter, in particular by questioning the share of fake accounts on the platform. Twitter having guaranteed in early May 2022 a share of less than 5% of these fake accounts out of all of these 229 million users, Elon Musk insisted on the lack of solidity and evidence for this assertion and pushed the exercise to the limit. to withdraw its takeover offer. He derived two main benefits from it: Firstly, the doubt installed in public opinion as to the quality of the technical and ethical management of the platform, fake accounts being vectors of cyber crime and offering a formidable sounding board to the campaigns of influence on the network. Then, by destabilizing the opinion of the financial markets on Twitter and its business model and by proving to Twitter its ability to destabilize its share price in its favor (variations of up to minus 25% over one day).

The justification trap in which the management of Twitter has locked itself

Twitter angled its defense toward attacks on Musk’s controversial personality and the financial and legal consistency of his takeover bid.
Twitter presented Musk’s offensive as partisan, emphasizing its closeness to the Trump camp at large and in particular to the so-called conspiratorial movement. The objective is to put the platform back in the position of a central, neutral and ethical player in the debate and, on the contrary, to radicalize Musk’s position.
Twitter also targeted certain unstructured past statements by Musk, in order to demonstrate the inconsistency and inconsistency of Musk’s personality with the aim of weakening the image of his economic and financial empire in public opinion and in the markets. financial. Fully aware that the perception of Musk’s success in public opinion and in the financial markets is essentially made up of emotional and partisan opinions within a futuristic technical-scientific magma whose subtlety and finality escape most people, the management of Twitter multiplied the actions of damage to the reputation of Musk and the companies of his group with the aim of weakening the market valuation of the Musk group and de facto its capacity for redemption.

The attempted legal circumvention maneuver to escape the trap

Musk’s offensives to influence Twitter’s stock price downwards having proved more effective than theirs, Twitter then directed its defense to the judiciary. Denouncing, from the jurisdiction of Delaware, the withdrawal of the offer to buy Twitter by Musk by focusing again on the personality of Musk and by denouncing his cynicism and his lack of morality.
Finally, Elon Musk maintained his purchase offer which was made on 10/28/2022 at a price of 45 billion US dollars, corresponding to the amount of the 1st offer issued in the spring.
This suggests that the legal attack on Twitter forced Musk to pay the full price when probably the latter was hoping for a drop in the stock market value of Twitter following these reputational attacks on the social network.

It seems acceptable to opine that Musk emerged victorious from this informational clash. The purchase of Twitter being made. The number of active users of the “little blue bird” has experienced significant growth since the takeover and suggests an increase in income through advertising or through the establishment of a paid subscription.

The limits of the offensive led by Elon Musk

It is also legitimate to consider that Musk did not achieve 100% of these objectives and that he was hoping for a less expensive financial offer and an outcome less harmful to his image.
Musk’s early actions in his managerial takeover of Twitter evoke personal resentment and a desire to minimize the influence of the former leadership team. The informational clash around Twitter is therefore not over for Musk. The economic viability of this purchase is also not guaranteed. Internal tensions, layoffs, and numerous voluntary departures are jeopardizing Twitter’s short-term operating capacities. Its image is of great value for the promotion of its activities. Interestingly, Musk ultimately put the reopening of Trump’s account to a poll on his own Twitter account (52% for – 48% against). Without assuming the statistical validity of the latter, the interest for Musk lies in a more neutral repositioning, as observer and arbiter.

This confusion between actor and arbitrator, and the multiplicity of positions adopted by each party, sometimes even going as far as contradiction, is essential in understanding this confrontation. This should be put into perspective with the very essence of social networks with politico-social ambitions. The immediacy of information, its virality, as well as a certain form of amnesia in public opinion seem to characterize the debate on social networks and define new dialectical rules.

The need for a debate based on the search for the truth or at least on a grounded argument no longer appearing as a priority in the information war on this type of platform. Only membership is significant. The validity of the underlying information becoming secondary.
This results in essential questions for public forces, private actors and society as a whole. Is it relevant and feasible to control, to regulate social networks? How to distinguish regulation from censorship and propaganda? How will financial markets and economic players manage these tactical information attacks? The volatility and feverishness of the former offer considerable leverage to manipulation and reputational damage.

What place for truth in public debate?

Alexis Durand
Auditor in MSIE – Executive MBA in Strategic Management and Economic Intelligence

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