Matt Levine on Elon Musk’s Twitter Deal

Matt Levine, in his Money Stuff column at Bloomberg, after running through a bunch of scenarios in which the deal might not go through:

Still I worry a little that Musk seems to conceive of “free speech” in mostly standard American billionaire terms. Yesterday Jeff Bezos pondered, on Twitter, whether the government of China will gain leverage over Twitter because Musk is buying it. The idea is that Twitter has no particular commercial ties to China (where it has been banned since 2009), so it is free to host criticism of the Chinese government. Other American businesses with lots of commercial ties to China — Hollywood, basketball, etc. — often do not tolerate criticism of China, to avoid angering its government and endangering their businesses. Tesla is an American business with deep commercial ties to China, where it makes cars, sells cars and buys parts; it is run by Elon Musk and makes up the bulk of his net worth. If he owns Twitter, criticism of China on Twitter is potentially his problem, and Tesla’s, and he might face pretty explicit pressure to censor critics of China on Twitter. This seems like a complicated set of issues for him to navigate. But soon he will own the company, and then I guess he’ll navigate them all by himself.

Bezos’s original tweet thread:

Interesting question. Did the Chinese government just gain a bit of leverage over the town square?

My own answer to this question is probably not. The more likely outcome in this regard is complexity in China for Tesla, rather than censorship at Twitter.

But we’ll see. Musk is extremely good at navigating this kind of complexity.

Shitposting Elon Musk fans on Twitter jumped on Bezos’s remarks, pointing out that many (most?) of the goods sold by Amazon are made in China. And Bezos owns The Washington Post, so did China gain leverage over the Post? Clearly they did not. I don’t think Amazon is nearly as reliant on China as Tesla. Amazon doesn’t sell to consumers there; Tesla does and it’s their second-biggest market.

Apple is the more interesting comparison. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a TV+ series or movie or documentary that portrays China unflatteringly. There are Western companies that do big business in China, and there are Western companies that run media outlets that are critical of Chairman Pooh’s regime, but not much, if any, overlap between the two groups. But commissioning TV shows and movies to stream on your own service is very different from running the world’s biggest micro-blogging service.

Tuesday, 26 April 2022