In a heavily editorialized press release, Federal Communications Commission commissioner Nathan Simington shut down any talk of the agency stepping in to block Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter. “The FCC cannot, and should not, block this sale,” he said.
First and foremost, Simington argued, the FCC doesn’t have the authority to block Musk’s $44 billion takeover of Twitter. The agency does review certain mergers and acquisitions related to broadcast media and telecommunications to ensure they meet a public interest standard. Twitter, however, neither owns any broadcast licenses nor serves as a communications provider.
Beyond that, Simington dismissed “selective concerns” of media ownership. He noted that Google, YouTube, Facebook, the Washington Post and the New York Times are “each owned or controlled by one or two people or a single family.” Simington said there were “numerous examples” of common ownership of news and broadband services, which he cited to dismiss concerns about Musk controlling both Twitter and the Starlink internet satellite service.
It’s unclear who, exactly, Simington had in mind when addressing the calls by “some” for the FCC to block the deal. In the first place, federal regulators aren’t expected to block the deal. And if any agency were to do so, it almost certainly wouldn’t be the FCC, which has been relatively gridlocked all year with its board of commissioners evenly split along party lines. President Biden hasn’t yet been able to fill the vacant fifth seat.
Simington implied that there’s mounting pressure for the federal government to intervene, not on legal merits, but as a means of restricting free speech. Anticipating an attempted intervention, he wrote: “It would be not only unconstitutional, but plainly un-American, for any arm of the government to act against Twitter or Mr. Musk for such a purpose.”
Several prominent tech figures have likewise suggested that powerful forces are coalescing to thwart the takeover. “Elon’s proposed takeover of Twitter is a profound threat to unfree speech,” Marc Andreessen wrote on Twitter. Responding to one of Andreessen’s threads on the outsized power wielded by professional investment managers such as BlackRock’s Larry Fink, Musk observed that “decisions are being made on behalf of actual shareholders that are contrary to their interests … major problem with index/passive funds.” In a speech at a Miami crypto conference, Peter Thiel — who reportedly encouraged Musk to make a play for Twitter — identified Fink as part of a “financial gerontocracy” that uses ESG as “a factory for naming enemies.”
Several prominent Republicans have espoused a similar narrative. Rep. Darrell Issa of California said, “it’s not a coincidence the White House launched its Minister of Truth immediately after Elon Musk bought Twitter and backed free speech.” Sen. Ted Cruz juxtaposed the Twitter acquisition with the launch of the Disinformation Governance Board, which he called “a brazen attack on free speech.”
All of this is setting up what seems to be a win-win scenario for the Republican and libertarian base, at least in the near-term. If the Twitter acquisition goes through, then Musk succeeded in “enshrining free expression,” as Simington put it. If the deal is blocked — which, again, is unlikely — then it confirms the narrative that the mainstream media, institutional investors and the federal government are working together to thwart free speech.