Elon Musk has a real free speech problem on his hands

It’s been five months since Elon Musk agreed to buy Twitter, so it’s easy to forget that in those heady early days it was all supposed to be about free speech. We are long past that now. But Musk showed at least a glimmer of interest again this week, albeit in a completely different part of his empire: Starlink internet satellites.

With his October trial fast approaching, let’s talk about the Twitter case first. After failing to delay the trial but successfully add a slew of new claims, Musk is preparing (or not, who knows!) to answer Twitter questions in a deposition scheduled for September 26-27. The Chancery Daily Twitter account has helpfully listed other pending talks, mainly from financial officers around the transaction. As Initiated note, Twitter is even filing Musk’s own attorney, a decision that one of its cited experts calls “very strange.”

We likely won’t see any of the depositions anytime soon, including Musk’s and former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who was interviewed earlier this week. It’s also unclear how much we’ll get from Musk. Twitter has a few obvious directions to explore: it could ask about Musk’s textual comments about postponing the deal in the event of ‘World War 3’, which could undermine his claims that he’s scared of bots, and he can ask if Musk has a secret. secret information from Peiter “Mudge” Zatko – something Twitter demanded details about in a court order and which he will argue in a hearing next week. This would fit the gamble of portraying Zatko as a vengeful and disgruntled employee, though tearing down Zatko’s motives is less important than dismantling his actual claims.

Musk has a habit of getting testy during depositions

Musk has a history of being very irritable during depositions. In a lawsuit against his solar energy company SolarCity, he gave an interview calling a lawyer a “disgraceful person” and a “bad human being” and saying the case was a waste of time. During the 2019 libel trial for calling caver Vernon Unsworth a “pedo,” he accused Unsworth and attorney L. Lin Wood of a “shakedown.” (That was before Wood became primarily known as the “putschist Trump”. More innocent times!) But Musk is also irritable everywhere else, at this point, so it’s unclear how much more aggressive he’ll be. .

It’s all great fun if you – like me and some of the other This Week In Elon co-writers – enjoy court disputes and legal wrangling. (Delaware Chancellor Court Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick, on the other hand, is openly irritated by Musk’s lawyers, and if Elon’s history in court is any indication, it may not be particularly pleased with Musk himself.) are invested in Twitter as a speaking platform because, far from improving the platform, Musk’s proposed takeover and legal attrition war apparently took its toll.

Earlier this week, Initiated released reports of low morale and high turnover at the company, where sources say around 9% of its employees left (apparently mostly voluntarily) in the months since followed Musk’s first meeting with them. It is deeply discouraging, and even if it is way too early to be alarmist about this, it raises a good question: what will the media landscape look like if Twitter fails? Twitter is one of those platforms that few ordinary people engage with but journalists and political elites are obsessed with, and he’s entering what is sure to be a high-stress period during the US midterm elections.

The Twitter lawsuit will thankfully be over on Election Day, and what we know about its preparations so far is pretty standard stuff – things like an election hub, voting information, and “prebunks” (which now have limited but growing research backing them up) to false narratives. But there will be post-trial filings and possibly more arguments, and we may not receive an order until later this year. It’s also impossible to predict every crisis that can arise during an election, and it’s a particularly difficult time for employees to be distracted and miserable. Twitter is the platform journalists like me love to hate, but it’s legitimately frustrating to watch Musk go from kind of an interesting (if misguided) speech experiment to a slash and burn attack.

Musk owning Twitter has always been an odd fit, and it becomes even more apparent when Musk starts pinning idealistic promises on his usual realm of sci-fi hardware experiments. The lucky candidate this week was Starlink, the satellite internet service Musk launched last year. Musk was contacted on Twitter by journalist Erfan Kasraie, who asked Musk to bring Starlink’s service to Iran, which is currently facing a severe communications block in response to mass protests. In response, Musk said he planned to seek an exemption from US sanctions in the country, opening the door to sending Starlink equipment there.

We don’t know if Musk will follow suit, and it’s obviously easy to be cynical about his big claims. (It’s also a little ironic since Twitter was once the service hailed as a tool of online resistance and freedom in Iran.) Starlink doesn’t seem like a slam dunk for covert censorship evasion either, as it requires an exactly subtle mounted satellite dish.

That said, Starlink – for all its limitations competing with wired internet service – is a functional product that has had some success as an internet service provider of last resort. Musk gifted Starlink kits to Ukraine after the Russian invasion earlier this year, and months later had won praise from Ukrainian defense officials for staying online as fiber cables and cell towers were destroyed. A group of lawmakers has also encouraged the Treasury Department to grant an exemption for Starlink, so it has support if it decides to pursue it.

Either way, it all puts Musk in his natural element, and we’ll likely see more of those moments in the coming weeks. Later this month, he claims he’ll be revealing a version of his humanoid robot Optimus that isn’t a guy in a robot suit. His brain-computer interface company Neuralink is planning a Halloween “show and tell” of his progress. Will either of these reveals pan out? Who knows! But at least they’re trying to build something, not just smash toys he doesn’t want anymore.

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