Jeff Bezos has asked if Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s leveraged buyout of Twitter will give China influence over the social media company.
Late Monday, the Amazon founder retweeted an observation from New York Times journalist Mike Forsythe and added his own comment: “Interesting question. Did the Chinese government just gain a bit of leverage over the town square?”
The suggestion is that Musk’s business interests in China will make him vulnerable to pressure from Beijing.
According to Forsythe, China is the biggest market for Tesla after the U.S. and the automaker is dependent on Chinese battery manufacturers. (Bezos also has interests in China, with China-based sellers reportedly representing 75% of new sellers on Amazon in January 2021.)
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About an hour after his tweet, Bezos appeared to downplay the suggestion, noting that “the more likely outcome” would be “complexity in China for Tesla, rather than censorship at Twitter.”
His comments came hours after Twitter’s board approved the $44 billion buyout—one of the largest ever leveraged acquisitions of a listed firm.
Although changes to Twitter have not been formally announced, Musk’s acquisition has stirred debate on free speech.
Musk is a self-styled “free speech absolutist” and has proposed easing up content moderation on the platform. The 50-year-old business magnate said he wants to make Twitter’s algorithm open-source to increase trust, defeat spam bots, and authenticate users. He has also promised an edit button for tweets.
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The political right is rejoicing at the buyout. U.S. Republican Representative Jim Jordan of the conservative Freedom Caucus called it “a great day for free speech,” while Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn said she hoped Twitter would “become what it was supposed to be: the online public space for everyone with different views.”
Critics, however, say toxic rhetoric will flourish if content moderation is loosened. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren warned that Musk’s acquisition of Twitter was “dangerous for our democracy.”