If Elon Musk is able to take over Twitter Inc., his biggest promise is to transform it into a platform for free speech with few restrictions — something he calls “essential to a functioning democracy.” But Musk, who is famously sensitive to criticism, has a mixed record on championing the cause.
The 50-year-old billionaire has donated over $6 million to the American Civil Liberties Union in the last five years, making him one of its most substantial donors, and he’s discussed free speech on numerous occasions with the organization’s executive director. But in his tweets, public remarks and policies at the businesses he runs, Musk shows little tolerance for speech that’s unflattering to him or his companies, or reflects employee criticism of the workplace.
At Tesla Inc. and SpaceX, Musk has a long track record of silencing or punishing anyone who goes public with criticism of a project or practice. Workers must sign nondisclosure agreements and arbitration clauses that prevent them from taking their employer to court.
Meanwhile, Musk uses his Twitter account, where he has more than 80 million followers and a fan base he can ignite, to publicly mock others, from a local health official during the early days of the pandemic to Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s current chief executive officer.
Musk defined the goal for Twitter at a TED event last week: “A good sign as to whether there is free speech is: Is someone you don’t like allowed to say something you don’t like? If that is the case, then we have free speech.”