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Elon Musk wants to change Twitter

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Twitter is trying to thwart a takeover attempt by Elon Musk, the richest person in the world. Elon Musk loves to tweet, and he says he has a lot of ideas that might unlock the platform's potential. But the changes he's calling for at Twitter might not be popular with some users and advertisers. NPR's tech correspondent Shannon Bond joins us. Shannon, thanks so much for being with us.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: So how is Twitter trying to prevent the richest man in the world from buying what is, after all, a public company?

BOND: Well, the company is preparing to fight back. On Friday, the day after Musk announced this $43 billion takeover offer, Twitter's board introduced what's known as a poison pill to fend off Musk. Basically, this would let current investors buy more shares at a discount if Musk or anyone else tries to increase their stake in Twitter to 15% or more. And so that would make it more expensive for Musk to buy the company. So, you know, the board is not rolling over here. This sets up a real fight over the future of the company. Now, Musk already owns 9% of Twitter, but he says he wants to buy the rest and take it private to, as he puts it, unlock its potential.

SIMON: Do we know what he'd like to do with it?

BOND: Well, you know, Twitter, of course, has its problems, right? It's lost money in the last few years. It's not growing as quickly as investors would like. But unlike your typical corporate raider, Musk has been very upfront that this is not about making money. At a conference on Thursday, he said what he cares about is free speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELON MUSK: Twitter has become kind of the de facto town square, so it's just really important that people have the - both the reality and the perception that they are able to speak freely within the bounds of the law.

BOND: And so that's what Musk means when he talks about potential. He thinks Twitter is overly restrictive about what people are allowed to say, and he wants to change that.

SIMON: And how would you change it if he succeeds in a takeover?

BOND: Well, Musk says he thinks Twitter should basically allow all legal speech. And, you know, in the U.S., that's just about anything. So, you know, if Twitter were to do this, it would mean allowing disinformation, hate speech, harassment, spam. These are all things that Twitter and other internet platforms have been cracking down on. And, you know, we know these platforms already have a lot of problems with toxic content, anyway. Karen Kornbluh studies online disinformation at the German Marshall Fund, and she says there's a reason major platforms have these rules, especially Twitter, given who uses it most.

KAREN KORNBLUH: Their asset is all the journalists and opinion-makers who come there. If they kill that asset by making it completely inhospitable and a cesspool, I think they're going to go in the wrong direction.

BOND: And, of course, Scott, you know, Twitter makes its money from ads. And advertisers also don't want to be around this kind of content.

SIMON: What other ideas does Elon Musk have for Twitter?

BOND: Well, you know, he knows the platform really well, right? He loves to tweet. He really gets how Twitter works. And so he's talked about banning bot accounts that tweet automatically, right? These have caused lots of headaches for Twitter over the years. Russian trolls use them to spread disinformation. There are also networks of bots that constantly tweet about cryptocurrency to try to hype up prices. Musk also says he wants to make Twitter's algorithm public so users could better understand why they're being shown particular tweets. That's something, actually, former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has also advocated for.

And maybe the most popular idea Musk has endorsed is giving people the ability to edit their tweets after they're posted. Now, that might not seem like a big deal, but it's something a lot of Twitter users have wanted for years. And Twitter says it's actually been working on an edit button since well before Musk started buying shares in the company. And it says it's going to start testing that out soon.

SIMON: NPR's Shannon Bond, thanks so much.

BOND: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.