Science

Elon Musk’s last frontier

It is not enough for the new Steve Jobs to reinvent the automotive industry with Tesla or the rocket industry with SpaceX. By buying Twitter, he also wants to reinvent social media and public debate. Excessive ambition?

He promised to colonize Mars with SpaceX. And now Elon Musk is buying Twitter, a social network that broadcasts 280-character messages. Ambitions gone? Obviously not. Twitter will be added to the store of companies led by Elon Musk, including Tesla, the king of electric vehicles, which promises to deliver more than 1.5 million vehicles this year, up from 935,000 last year. His SpaceX continues to launch up to one rocket a week under his direction with satellites or passengers. In anticipation of a mission to the moon for NASA.

He promised to colonize Mars with SpaceX. And now Elon Musk is buying Twitter, a social network that broadcasts 280-character messages. Ambitions gone? Obviously not. Twitter will be added to the store of companies led by Elon Musk, including Tesla, the king of electric vehicles, which promises to deliver more than 1.5 million vehicles this year, up from 935,000 last year. His SpaceX continues to launch up to one rocket a week under his direction with satellites or passengers. In anticipation of a mission to the moon for NASA. Nothing holds back Elon Musk in his appetite. He is a “cowboy entrepreneur,” as the newspaper Les Echos calls him. “A Rockefeller-style do-it-yourselfer or an inventor boss who pushed the boundaries of his time like Howard Hughes,” the French daily rated. “Although the most commonly used comparison is with an imaginary hero… Tony Stark, aka Iron Man.” For Twitter, the path is clear. The shareholders are happy to sell the shares at an unexpected price of 54.2 euros, which is 38% more than the price on April 1. Elon Musk will pay $44 billion to afford his favorite means of communication. The entrepreneur is a constant tweeter (12,000 tweets since 2012) and has 83 million followers, more than Lady Gaga. To carry out the operation, he had to sell 9.6 million Tesla shares for about $8.5 billion. Elon Musk may be the richest man in the world, with Bloomberg’s estimated net worth at 252 billion euros, mostly in stocks. Mostly Tesla, of which he owns 16%, or even SpaceX. So to afford Twitter, he provided half the funding in cash ($21 billion) and the rest in loans partially guaranteed by Tesla securities. In the markets, this acquisition was not met with great enthusiasm. Tesla shares fell 12% on the day the deal was announced, April 25. No doubt out of fear of seeing Elon Musk disappear into Twitter. Or fearing a negative reaction from, for example, China, on which Tesla is highly dependent: this country accounts for 25% of its sales. “If the same CEO who controls Tesla controls Twitter and someone on Twitter says things the Chinese government doesn’t like, the Chinese government will be tempted to punish Tesla to influence what Musk will accept (or not accept).” on Twitter,” says The Motley Fool, an American investment advice website. However, there is no shortage of annoying tweets: Uighurs, Hong Kong… Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, tickled Elon Musk about this. “Won’t the Chinese government have a little influence in the public space,” Elon Musk’s space rival asks on Twitter. This directly alludes to Elon Musk’s statement about his vision of the social network: “Twitter is a digital public platform where vital issues for humanity are discussed.” In any case, affording Twitter will not be easy. Elon Musk will have to restart the company, which is a social network known and practiced by the world of media and politics, but whose success is relative. Its 229 million users are small compared to the billions of Facebook or Instagram users. And his business model is wrong. Last year, Twitter posted a loss of almost $500 million on $5.6 billion in revenue, compared to Meta (Facebook)’s $39 billion profit and $118 billion in revenue. In fact, the company almost never made any money. This does not apply to Elon Musk, who trumpeted: “I don’t care about the economy at all.” An entrepreneur does not have to reassure shareholders and unpack a detailed business plan. Following the acquisition, Twitter will no longer be listed on the stock exchange and will only have accounts for Elon Musk. No more financial analysts, equity activists. This is why, in a press release announcing the takeover agreement, Elon Musk is content with minimal service to explain his intentions. “I also want to make Twitter better than ever by adding new features to the product, making algorithms open source to increase trust, defeat spam bots, and authenticate all people,” promising to “unleash” “Twitter’s huge potential.” Elon Musk has also hinted that he could remove ads, which make up 90% of the social network’s revenue, in order to limit pressure from advertisers and increase paid subscriptions. With options like editing posts (correcting after submitting), a topic he even launched a tweet poll on (4 million positive responses). “Elon Musk’s involvement could be a catalyst to attract more young users, a category in which the company is distancing itself from competitors like Snap or TikTok,” writes Bloomberg Intelligence optimistically. But the item that gets the most comments falls outside the economic equation. Will Twitter, with Elon Musk at the helm, become a fake news machine? The entrepreneur reiterated that he needed a discussion platform with minimal restrictions, and regularly criticized the moderation systems created by Twitter. In particular, the exclusion of users who are too prone to spreading conspiracy theses, like Donald Trump, who was banned last year. The libertarian Musk can say whatever he wants on Twitter, “within the laws of this country,” he said. Idealistic or naive vision? “There is no anti-hate speech law in the United States,” argues Andrew Marantz, a columnist for The New Yorker. “On the contrary, the Supreme Court regularly reminds that virtually all hate speech is protected by the First Amendment (…). So you can shout in the park, for example, that all synagogues should be burned down.” If Elon Musk is criticized in this way by the American liberal press, including the New York Times, then his Twitter activity is more welcomed by elected Republicans than by Democrats. In Europe, however, Commissioner Thierry Breton warned: “Whatever the new stake, Twitter will now have to fully adapt to European rules.” A hint at new European legislation, the Digital Services Act, which establishes obligations to establish social media moderation. From Twitter, Elon Musk is expected at the turn of the two sides of the Atlantic. But thanks to his multifaceted business, he has the opportunity to divert attention to other topics. For example, he can surprise with his space activities. SpaceX is currently developing a fully reusable Starship spacecraft that can carry 100 tons of payload or carry 100 passengers. NASA will use it to return to the moon, but Elon Musk intends to use it for other purposes, such as flying. To Mars… Or for the Starlink project to access the network via satellite to reach areas of the planet that are still underserved. To provide this service, SpaceX has already sent more than 2,200 satellites into low orbit. Elon Musk wants 30,000 units in service. The project worries NASA, which fears traffic jams in space, but also intrigues carriers who might see new competing services emerge, or car manufacturers. “I read that Porsche (the VW group) is planning to launch its own satellites because they may be needed for future autonomous cars,” notes Benoit Depert, CEO of Aerospacelab, a Belgian mini-satellite startup. “There is no doubt that the industry is concerned that Tesla could gain a significant competitive advantage tomorrow thanks to Starlink satellites.” But for more, check out Elon Musk’s Twitter.

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