Twitter announced on Tuesday that Elon Musk, the billionaire Tesla founder-turned-Twitter-troll, will join the social media platform’s board of directors. The news followed reports that Musk purchased a 9.2 percent stake in Twitter, making him the company’s largest investor.
The company’s CEO announced Musk’s addition to the board in a chipper tweet:
But despite how Musk’s investment in Twitter is being billed by the company’s head, it’s a worrisome development at a time when social media platforms are already facing scrutiny for their influence on our lives and our emotions.
Any argument against Musk’s hefty Twitter share is sure to rile up the "MuskBros," a term used to describe his cult-like followers. But there are serious reasons to be concerned about his involvement in a social media platform that vacuums up terabytes of our personal data daily and has tremendous influence over the news we see.
Musk is a Twitter troll
Musk’s most infamous controversy involved him baselessly alleging that a diver who helped rescue a Thai soccer team from an underwater cave in 2018 was a "pedo." He appeared to double down on that claim in a subsequent series of emails to BuzzFeed News, in which he claimed the diver was a "child rapist."
He’s hardly the sensible voice you’d want wielding any influence over your news feed.
Tesla facing allegations of racism
Musk joins Twitter at the same time his company is facing allegations of racism. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a racial discrimination and harassment lawsuit against Tesla in February, following numerous disturbing accusations from Black employees over several years. (Tesla has denied the claims).
One employee’s lawsuit, filed in February, said working for Tesla was like being “forced to step back in time and suffer painful abuses reminiscent of the Jim Crow era.”
Tesla has paid out more than $100 million in racial discrimination and harassment suits, including a $137 million to an employee who said his co-workers drew swastikas and racist caricatures around the Tesla factory where he worked.
Twitter has long had a problem dealing with anti-Black harassment and abuse. Hiring Musk doesn’t inspire confidence on this front.
Tesla collects massive amounts of user data
Tesla vehicles collect a huge amount of personal data. They save the car’s speed, mileage, video from the car’s external cameras, the vehicle’s location, and much, much more. Despite Twitter making some changes to its privacy settings this year, the platform also collects troves of user data, including information about things you do online when you leave Twitter.
Musk, as a major stakeholder in both, will sit on a mountain of our information. And it’s unclear — but worth considering — how his being on the board might change Twitter’s stance on privacy. The platform has previously blocked some businesses known for using data in dubious ways — like Cambridge Analytica — from targeting and selling ads on the platform.
Musk, who’s been quite critical of Twitter in the past, could potentially use his influence to weaken those rules for either financial or political reasons.