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The Big Take

Elon Musk Stakes a $44 Billion Claim on the Future of Free Speech

Musk’s purchase of Twitter has sealed his bond with the American right—whether the platform’s left-leaning employees and users like it or not.

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Photo illustration: 731; Photo: Getty Images

When it began earlier this month, Elon Musk’s pursuit of Twitter Inc. had the tone of a prank. Soon it seemed to get slightly out of hand, then spiraled completely out of control, and finally culminated on April 25 with the world’s richest man agreeing to spend $44 billion for one of the most politically important technology companies in history. There have been bigger acquisitions in financial terms, but Twitter’s significance has always been out of line with its balance sheet. There’s never been a Silicon Valley deal quite like this one.

To recap how we got here: In early April, Musk disclosed that he’d acquired a stake in Twitter, explaining the move by railing about the social media company’s supposed squelching of free speech. His complaints have lacked specifics, instead relying heavily on the dog whistles of the extremely online segment of the political right. On April 5 he seemed set to join Twitter’s board, then said on April 9 that he wouldn’t do so, then said four days later that he’d buy the whole thing for $54.20 per share. Longtime fans of the famously chill chief executive officer noticed the 420 reference immediately—as did Twitter’s directors, who parried with a “shareholder rights” plan (i.e., a poison pill) that also included a 420 joke.