Twitter takeover: worth a retweet?

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | May 3, 2022

Last week, billionaire Elon Musk purchased the social media company Twitter for $44 billion. The jaw-dropping acquisition, expected to be completed in three to six months, has been roundly applauded — and criticized.

Those cheering the new deal see it as a win for free speech. In the past, Musk has been critical of Twitter’s policies on moderating comments. But critics say loosening restrictions will lead to harassment and misinformation.

Like other social media websites, Twitter has been able to bring a global community together to immediately share news and information. For example, news about the war in Ukraine is often reported first on the social media site. In the faith community, Twitter is a way for religious leaders like Pope Francis to offer prayers and greetings to millions of followers.

While it’s too early to say if Musk’s takeover of Twitter will lead to more dialogue or more diatribe, some in the religious world are already waving warning flags.

Jack Jenkins, a national reporter for Religion News Service, interviewed Jewish and Muslim leaders who worry that rolling back moderation policies will unleash harassment of religious minorities.

“We know firsthand that hate and extremism in digital spaces can lead to physical violence, particularly against Jews and other marginalized communities,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.

“Musk’s takeover threatens to make Twitter an even more dangerous place for Muslims and other marginalized people — and that includes the very real possibility of allowing Trump back on the platform,” Sumayyah Waheed of Muslim Advocates told Jenkins. (After years of tweeting misinformation, former President Trump was permanently banned from Twitter on Jan. 6, 2021 — three days after the insurrection that took place at the nation’s capital.)

Musk, CEO of the Tesla electric car company and Space X, an aerospace company that builds and launches rockets, is the world’s richest person. How he makes and spends money is his business. However, during the pandemic, while his wealth was climbing from $266 billion in March 2020 to $290 in April 2022, Musk and other billionaires were challenged to step up and assist 42 million people facing famine.

David Beasley, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program (WFP), made the appeal in October 2021. He asked the world’s top 400 billionaires for a one-time donation to help end world hunger. 

“Just last week, Elon Musk had a $6 billion net worth increase in one day. … The top 400 billionaires in the United States, their net worth increase was $1.8 trillion in the past year,” said Beasley in the October interview with CNN. “All I’m asking for is .36% of your net worth increase. I’m for people making money, but God knows I’m also for helping people who are in great need right now.”

In response to Beasley’s challenge, Musk replied (on Twitter, no less) that if WFP could describe how $6 billion would solve world hunger, he would “sell Tesla stock right now and do it” himself.

“I can assure you that we have the systems in place for transparency and open-source accounting,” Beasley responded to Musk on Twitter. “Your team can review and work with us to be totally confident of such.” Beasley later tweeted, “$6B will not solve world hunger, but it WILL prevent geopolitical instability, mass migration and save 42 million people on the brink of starvation.”

His appeal apparently didn’t sway Musk. Instead, he sold stock in Tesla to help finance the $44 billion Twitter acquisition. Some might say it’s a lesson in shrewd business strategy; others will say an example of mixed priorities. 

For Christians, whether in the low-, middle- or high-income bracket, it can serve as a reminder of our duty as stewards to care for the least, as told to us in Luke’s Gospel: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Lk 12:48).

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