Media materialisation with buyouts and privatisation


With Elon Musk bidding to buy Twitter, digital platforms appear to be moving beyond the people they were made for

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Image by Dan Taylor

By Yelena Jurkenas

On 14 April 2022 Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter for $44 billion was accepted. The company had initially declined his offer and Musk rejected the prior invitation to join Twitter’s board of directors. The company is set to be privatised but on 6 June the BBC reported that Musk has threatened to walk away from the takeover.

Musk sought ownership of Twitter under the impression that by relaxing its content restriction and eradicating fake accounts he could unlock the social media platform’s true potential, claiming to be more interested in improving free speech than business benefits. This has unnerved many US Democrats but also charmed many Republicans who felt that Twitter’s previous moderation policies gave too much favour to left-leaning viewpoints. It has also unearthed questions about the return of bullying, misinformation and Trump to Twitter. However, Trump himself has commented saying he has no plans to return, leaving visible changes of content restrictions up for debate.

The European Commission has spoken out about concerns of bullying and misinformation, warning Musk that he must protect users from abusive free speech. Spokesman Johannes Bahrke particularly spoke about ensuring the Digital Service Act is considered and upholded, which protects users rights through regulating transparency. Musk has responded by promising that Twitter will still serve public conversation fulfilling this through removing anonymous accounts and combatting bots, though this raises more concerns as critique of governments in certain countries could be subject to punishment if a name is behind a tweet rather than it being anonymous. Evidently, Musk will have to be careful how he re-shapes Twitter and be conscious of all the consequences behind each alteration angle.

Although Musk has revealed that he wants to transform the business of the platform from an ad basis to a subscription basis, potentially allowing it to be an unmonetized haven for those who have the means to pay for it. Musk has also implied that the currency of these subscriptions could be crypto meaning the app could easily become niche in its audience and increasing rumours about the departure of the app’s strongest critiques. With Jameela Jamil, the actor best known for playing Tahani Al-Jamil in the Good Place, announcing her imminent exit due to fears about the app becoming an echo chamber for hate.

On the contrary, Caroline Orr Bueno, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Maryland has opposed leaving the app. She has taken a more optimistic and hopeful point of view as she see’s Musk’s takeover as a chance for the app to be reshaped. This is not the opinion of White House officials though with reports that President Joe Biden is worried about the power Twitter could yield through its large financial basis. Government officials here can do no more than comment and warn for they do not have the authority to control private businesses due to a reliance on them for funding and support.

Britain on the other hand seems to be less worried about the power of businessmen beyond the state with the government deciding to approve the privatisation of Channel 4. The aim is to widen the scope of the channel as broadcasting continues to progress with advance-ments of the new media landscape. It was announced that any profit made would be clearly divided into reinvestment in the TV industry and funding for independent production companies. The new ownership promises to allow Channel 4 to keep up with the likes of Netflix and Amazon by giving it the freedom to advance creatively without losing its primetime new programming commitments.

The controversial announcement comes after a 10-week consultation of how to best sustain the channel, in which it was made clear that the unique sphere of the channel cannot be compromised. The channel has promised to deliver “innovative alternative content that challenges the status quo”, since 1982, by covering what others have been too tentative to broadcast. It has given voices to previously silenced shows and opened up niche audiences, readily increasing awareness.

By privatising the channel, the public support for the channel is being disregarded and this was made clear when Nadine Dorries quoted incorrect figures at her select committee hearing. Despite rumours that a large American syndicate could be the new owner, the British public remain patient in the wait to hear who will take on the new ownership.

Musk’s potential ownership of Twitter speaks of the scale of influence these corporations can gain. Whereas the privatisation of Channel 4 speaks of Britain’s desire to delegate power away from the hands of government officials. Maybe depoliticization is more prevalent and although ministers claim to have the media’s best interests at heart, motivations cannot truly be assessed until the consultations results are fully released to the public and the new owner is announced.

As media continues to evolve and take on new forms the public await to hear if they will ever be able to influence a sphere which seems to be moving beyond the people it was made for.