Information conflict between Elon Musk and Twitter

Information conflict between Elon Musk and Twitter

The recent American presidential election in November 2020 demonstrated more than ever the central and defining role of social networks for the formation and development of opinion groups, as well as the ideological and operational strengthening of already established social or political groups. But this last American presidential election was marked by the emergence of a kind of “thought police” that seems to have taken over the leaders and opinion leaders of the Republican camp, working mostly in favor of the Democrats. Elon Musk demonstrated on Twitter that critical discourse fueled by Donald Trump’s missteps can, at its strongest, be stripped of his moralizing legitimacy by the demagogic slippages of his cognitive fulcrums.

A priori insurmountable vocist trend position

Twitter has a virtually quasi-monopoly position and plays a strategic role, especially in American political and public discourse. Twitter has demonstrated a liberal prism (in the American sense of the term) with a “vocist” tendency through its arbitrage on freedom of expression and the management of “fake news”.
Following the post-election incidents at the Capitol, in early January 2021, Twitter decided to delete President Trump’s Twitter account. A decision that had major implications both within the United States and around the world.
America’s version of the self-proclaimed global model of freedom of expression and democratic debate has thus found itself devalued and silenced by the actions of a private company.

The genius entrepreneur Elon Musk is a regular on social networks, especially on Twitter. Several times he has proven his taste for this tool and its ease of use, especially in the context of promoting economic activity to highlight the achievements of Tesla, Space X or potentially revolutionary cryptocurrencies and especially bitcoin. .
Regularly presenting himself as a libertarian and therefore an ardent defender of free speech, Musk perfectly encapsulated the grandeur of modern public debate, where noise and amnesia follow each other. His positions on Twitter have several times affected the stock price of Tesla or Space X or the valuation of Bitcoin.

Using the contradictions of the New Thought Police Elon Musk

In early spring 2022, Elon Musk announced his desire to buy Twitter, defending his desire to restore the ideological neutrality of the platform and, above all, to ensure freedom of expression. The start of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine a few weeks ago and the approach of the “mid-term” elections in the fall of 2022 have provided a convenient social and political debate area for the platform and a window for Musk to launch a media attack. . Elon Musk then permanently occupied the global media space and Twitter in particular. Its communication was organized by two main axes:

  • Promote the ethical character of his career, actions, and personality to establish in the public opinion that his attempt to take over Twitter was an act for the common good and in defense of human values ​​such as liberty. of speech. He regularly promoted his actions in support of the Ukrainian government, particularly the provision of the Starlink satellite network to maintain Ukrainian communications. It also significantly reduced its position in cryptocurrencies, a sector that has been battered since the war in Ukraine.
  • Criticize Twitter management by attacking from multiple angles. First, regarding the violation of net neutrality. To do so, he focused on pushing President Trump off the platform, exposing the move as a serious attack on free speech and political debate. This argument found strong support in American public opinion. He later led an attack on Twitter’s economic and technical management, particularly questioning the share of fake accounts on the platform. Elon Musk, who Twitter guaranteed less than 5% of these fake accounts among all 229 million users at the beginning of May 2022, insisted on the solidity and lack of proof of this claim and pushed the exercise to the limit. its takeover bid. It has gained two main benefits from this: First, the doubt in public opinion about the quality of the technical and ethical management of the platform, the fact that fake accounts are a vector of cybercrime and create a lot of noise for campaigns. network. Then by destabilizing the financial markets opinion on Twitter and its business model and proving Twitter’s ability to destabilize the stock price in its favor (up to minus 25% swings in one day).

The exculpatory trap that Twitter management has trapped itself in

Twitter has focused its defense on attacks on Musk’s controversial personality and the financial and legal consistency of his takeover bid.
Twitter portrayed Musk’s attack as partisan, highlighting his affinity for the Trump camp in general and the so-called conspiracy movement in particular. The goal is to return the platform to the position of a central, neutral and ethical player in the debate and, conversely, to radicalize Musk’s position.
Twitter also targeted certain of Musk’s unstructured past statements to demonstrate the incoherence and inconsistency of his personality in an effort to undermine the image of his economic and financial empire in public opinion and markets. The inherent thinness and finitude of the perception of Musk’s success in public opinion and financial markets has fueled efforts to undermine Twitter’s leadership, recognizing that it consists of emotional and partisan views within a futuristic techno-scientific magma that eludes most people. The reputation of Musk and his group of companies in order to weaken the market value of the Musk group and its actual ability to repay.

Attempting a legal evasive maneuver to avoid a trap

After Musk’s attacks on Twitter’s stock price proved more effective than theirs, Twitter took its defense to court. From the Delaware jurisdiction, refocusing on Musk’s personality, denouncing his cynicism and immorality, and condemning Musk’s withdrawal of his offer to buy Twitter.
Finally, Elon Musk retained the purchase offer made on 10/28/2022 at a price of 45 billion USD, which corresponds to the amount of the 1st offer made in the spring.
This suggests that the legal attack on Twitter forced Musk to pay the full price, when the latter had hoped that Twitter’s stock price would drop after these reputational attacks on the social network.

It seems reasonable to think that Musk won this information conflict. Twitter is being acquired. The number of active users of “Little Blue Bird” has experienced a significant increase since the takeover, and offers increased revenue through advertising or the creation of paid subscriptions.

Frontiers of attack led by Elon Musk

It is also legitimate to consider that Musk did not achieve these goals 100% and hoped for a cheaper financial offer and a less damaging result for his image.
Musk’s early moves to take control of Twitter are fueled by personal resentment and a desire to minimize the influence of his former leadership team. The information conflict around Twitter is not over for Musk. The economic efficiency of this purchase is also not guaranteed. Internal tensions, layoffs and multiple voluntary departures threaten Twitter’s short-term viability. His image is of great value for the promotion of his activities. Interestingly, Musk eventually questioned the reopening of Trump’s account on his Twitter account (52% in favor – 48% against). Without assuming the statistical validity of the latter, the interest for Musk lies in a more neutral positioning as observer and arbiter.

This confusion between actor and arbitrator and the multiplicity, sometimes even contradiction, of positions taken by each side is important to understanding this conflict. This should also be considered with the nature of social networks with political and social ambitions. The relevance of information, its virality, as well as a certain form of amnesia in public opinion characterize debates in social networks and define new dialectical rules.

The need for truth-seeking, or at least reasoned debate, no longer seems to be a priority in information warfare on this type of platform. Only membership matters. The reliability of the underlying information becomes secondary.
This raises important questions for public forces, private actors, and society as a whole. Is it relevant and appropriate to monitor and regulate social networks? How to distinguish regulation from censorship and propaganda? How will financial markets and economic players manage these tactical data attacks? The volatility and fever of the former offers significant leverage for manipulation and reputational damage.

What is the place of truth in public discussions?

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

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