More than a dozen advocacy groups have launched a campaign to stop Elon Musk's $44 billion acquisition of Twitter, saying the microblogging site under his ownership would be "detrimental to society".
The effort, named "Stop The Deal", is a coalition of non-profit organisations and is being spearheaded by social media watchdog Accountable Tech. The group is questioning Mr Musk's erratic and "potentially unlawful behaviour", saying consummating the deal would "threaten the basic safeguards Twitter has established to mitigate the real-world harms it can drive".
The groups that have joined Accountable Tech are the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), Fair Vote UK, Friends of the Earth, Glaad, the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, Media Matters for America, MediaJustice, MoveOn, Public Citizen, SumOfUs, The Sparrow Project and UltraViolet.
“Elon Musk is a wolf in expensive sheep’s clothing whose Twitter takeover is motivated by ego and grievance. Musk doesn’t care about Twitter’s users or employees; he doesn’t care about shareholders or advertisers; he doesn’t care about following the law or advancing the public good,” wrote Nicole Gill, executive director of Accountable Tech.
"Elon Musk only cares about Elon Musk. If we don’t stop this deal, he’ll hand a megaphone to demagogues and extremists, who will cheer him as they incite more hate, harm and harassment.”
The timeline of the Twitter acquisition saga has been both a spectacle and, in true Mr Musk fashion, controversial.
Stop The Deal adds to the chorus of sceptics questioning Mr Musk's intentions and how he plans to run Twitter. Those who are against the deal argue that Mr Musk, who is a prolific Twitter user, could take his free-speech advocacy too far and transform Twitter into a playground for divisiveness.
Mr Musk became a major Twitter stockholder following his revelation that he purchased 73.5 million shares in early April. Less than two weeks later, he launched a hostile and surprise takeover bid. After initial wrangling — including employee unrest — Twitter's board caved in and agreed to the purchase.
Then, in mid-May, Mr Musk said the deal "cannot move forward" unless Twitter provided proof that less than 5 per cent of its users are fake. Twitter bots amount to up to 12 per cent of visits on the platform, a study revealed this week. Critics have said that Mr Musk made the declaration so he could negotiate a smaller price.
The US Securities and Exchange Commission — with which Mr Musk has had repeated bouts and long-running animosity with — has asked him to explain why he did not disclose, within a required 10-day period, his increased stake in the company, especially if he was planning to buy it.
Accountable Tech said their campaign will tap any means necessary to stop the purchase, including legal and regulatory mechanisms, convince Twitter advertisers and investors, and education and mobilisation at the grassroots level.
“Elon Musk’s free speech fundamentalism forces women, people of colour, members of the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalised groups to pay the price for the ‘free’ speech of misogynists, white supremacists, bigots and so on,” said Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the CCDH.
Others called on regulators to rein in hostile takeovers such as this, which demonstrate the power wealthy people can wield if they so wish to acquire an influential company.
“A billionaire entrepreneur whose head is in the clouds and who thinks free speech means free reach will now control one of the most influential tech platforms in the world — what could possibly go wrong?” said Vicky Wyatt, campaign director of San Francisco-based SumOfUs.
“It’s time lawmakers pass tough new regulations that stop these Big Tech oligarchs from destroying our democracies and creating serious harm."
Rahna Epting, executive director of US-based MoveOn, took aim at social media companies, describing them as "nothing more than toxic cesspools of disinformation".
“Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter will not lead to more ‘free speech’ on the platform. It will simply lead to more extreme voices exploiting the platform to stoke hate, violence and harassment."