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Why Elon Musk Bought Twitter

On Monday, Elon Musk bought Twitter for forty-four billion dollars. Musk, the C.E.O. of Tesla and the richest man on earth, plans to take the social-media company private, and has said that he wants Twitter to adhere more closely to the principles of free speech, which, in a statement, Musk called “the bedrock of a functioning democracy.” (In the same statement, he described Twitter as the “digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”) Musk himself is a frequent tweeter, and it is assumed that he will continue to use the platform, and potentially reinstate the account of former President Donald Trump. He is also thought to be less likely to ban people for violations of the platform’s policies, which themselves may change.

To talk about Musk and what the future holds for his newest acquisition, I spoke by phone with Matt Levine, a Bloomberg Opinion columnist who has been comprehensively reporting on and analyzing this story over the past month in his newsletter. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed how Musk has used Twitter to further his business interests, how he views freedom of speech, and why Twitter’s influence has long surpassed its financial value.

Why do you think Elon Musk is buying Twitter?

I assume it’s because he has some genuine set of political and social beliefs about how Twitter should be run, and he feels like it isn’t being run that way. I also think that he gets a lot of pleasure and utility out of tweeting and wants it to be optimized for his use. The value of his company is enhanced by his being a very strange public figure on Twitter, and so he clearly sees a lot of value in tweeting, and probably wants to own that for himself.

It’s not immediately obvious why Tesla is valued as highly as it is. So how much do you connect Tesla’s worth to Elon Musk as a person and the way he orients himself toward the world, especially on Twitter?

Tesla is a company, a relatively small car company, that makes good high-end electric cars, right? And the stock-market value of Tesla, which makes Elon Musk the richest person in the world, comes from a lot of extreme optimism about Tesla’s future ability to make more cars and become the dominant player in car-making as cars become more electric. Also, he’s just, like, a sort of futurist visionary—he’s building tunnels that he seems to think will be the future of transportation. He’s sending rockets into space. And so the value of these companies in the market is largely derived from expectations around how much money they’ll make in the future, as opposed to how much money they’ve made in the past. And those expectations are probably helped by having a charismatic, noisy founder who makes a lot of jokes online and is sort of a science-fiction character himself, and portrays himself as a science-fiction character, and who appeals to people who like that by making jokes.

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