Elon Musk with a Tesla
Photo: Christian Marquardt/Pool/Getty Images

What does Twitter’s new troll-in-chief really want?

Protocol Policy

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy! Today, we’re talking about how Elon Musk will change Twitter. Plus: Amazon’s union fight expands, and Twitter’s autocrat crackdown.

Send in the clowns

On the short list of Twitter troublemakers, Elon Musk has got to rank somewhere near the tippy-top. Trump may have had him beat for a bit, but he’s already banned for life, so the title goes to Musk, a fully grown man and billionaire whose tweets have at times been so reckless, they have their own federally mandated “Twitter sitter.”

So what happens when a tech company’s biggest shit-stirrer becomes its biggest shareholder — and a member of the board? We’re about to find out.

In some ways, the news Tuesday that Twitter had appointed Musk to the board could have been ripped from any corporate playbook. CEO Parag Agrawal discussed the “great value” Musk would bring to the company, while co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey noted Agrawal and Musk would “be an incredible team.” In an uncharacteristically formal response to Agrawal, Musk said: “Looking forward to working with Parag & Twitter board to make significant improvements to Twitter in coming months!”

But the announcement was also instantly politicized, with Republican lawmakers and pundits alike cheering their favorite shitposter’s ascension to the top of the big, bad company that unapologetically axed Trump. “Elon Musk being named to Twitter’s Board of Directors is just the start,” tweeted Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, who was temporarily suspended from Twitter last year. “2022 is the year that we take back our country.”

Fox’s Tucker Carlson called it “a good day in America” when the news of Musk’s 9% stake was announced. Meanwhile, calls poured in from the right urging Musk to restore Trump’s account.

This response is no accident. Less than two weeks before his stake in Twitter went public — but well after he actually accumulated the shares — Musk teased that he was “giving serious thought” to building his own social network, in light of what he described as Twitter’s failure “to adhere to free speech principles.”

At the time, the tweet read like any of Musk’s other half-baked ideas — including, most recently, his attempt to challenge Vladimir Putin to hand-to-hand combat. In retrospect, it reads like a warning.

For all of the excitement from the right, rank-and-file Tweeps were decidedly less enthused about — and even openly critical of — Musk’s new role. And who can blame them? Musk’s apparent interest in pushing Twitter to prioritize free expression seems at total odds with the company’s ongoing efforts to create what it refers to as a “healthy” environment on the platform. What happens to all that work when it runs up against the views of the new most powerful person at Twitter?

It’s too soon to tell. For now, Musk is taking to his newfound power like some kind of Silicon Valley Santa Claus, polling his followers on wish-list items, like whether they want an edit button. (Twitter said it’s been working on the feature since last year and “didn’t get the idea from a poll.”)

But it’s also important to remember that Musk can be serious when he wants to be. You don’t make hundreds of billions of dollars building electric cars and rockets by doing everything for the lulz. For all his bluster and promises, Musk has made lots of wild wishes actually come true. The question now is whether he’ll take Twitter seriously too, or treat it like a plaything to shape to the liking of his many devoted fan boys.

Agrawal, for one, shared Musk’s poll about the edit button with a good-natured jab parroting one of Musk’s own self-serious tweets from late last month. But as Twitter faces down the potential impact of its new troll king, it’s hard not to see the truth in it too. “The consequences of this poll will be important,” Agrawal wrote. “Please vote carefully.”

— Issie Lapowsky (email | twitter)

This story originally appeared on Protocol.com.

In Washington

More than 40 members of Congress are meeting with tech leaders today as part of TechNet’s annual gathering. The tech executives plan to push lawmakers on the Competes Act, closing the digital divide, passing a federal privacy law and expanding high-skilled immigration, among other things.

Elon Musk may have violated the SEC’s requirements by not disclosing his stake in Twitter within 10 days of accumulating it. Incidentally, Musk may have saved hundreds of millions of dollars by building up his stake before the disclosure, at which point the share prices popped around 27%.

The House Oversight Committee is none too pleased with the Postal Service’s refusal to electrify its fleet of vehicles. During a hearing, USPS’ Victoria Stephen said the agency considered electrification “a near-term opportunity, but not a mission-critical one.”

How did chipmakers manage to squeeze $52 billion out of Congress? By supercharging their lobbying efforts. Lobbying by chip companies has increased 50% since 2018. By contrast, internet industry lobbying grew just 18% during the same period.

In the states

Workers in more than 50 Amazon warehouses have reportedly reached out to Christian Smalls since he led the Staten Island unionization effort to victory. The Amazon Labor Union had a budget of around $120,000 and managed to thwart Amazon’s anti-unionization efforts, which included anti-union consulting expenses of $4.3 million.

Amazon is ramping up competition with Starlink,signing deals with three commercial space companies to get its low-Earth orbit satellite network up and running. The deals will put Amazon up against SpaceX for rural broadband subsidies.


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On Protocol

The IPCC says carbon dioxide removal should play a role in getting us to net zero carbon emissions — but just how big? Protocol Climate provides a quick but comprehensive overview of CDR. It turns out, CDR is a powerful tool, but pretty limited if we don’t pursue overall emissions reductions — and fast.

The White House’s recent AI partnership with Singapore is really about limiting U.S. reliance on China. During a meeting between President Biden and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the U.S. and Singapore reaffirmed their commitment to work together to develop, among other things, ethical approaches to AI.

Coming soon: It’s been almost six months since Congress passed the landmark $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. With bad data to go on, like inaccurate broadband maps, how should the government distribute funding? Which tech companies are going to benefit most from the five-year push for EV growth? Who's getting left out? Join us at 9 a.m. PT/noon ET on April 21, when we explore how the infrastructure bill rollout is going and what it means for you. RSVP here.

Around the world

Twitter will stop recommending accounts linked to governments that “limit access to free information and are engaged in armed interstate conflict,” according to its head of Site Integrity, Yoel Roth. That applies even to countra accoies where Twitter is active. The company is also blocking posts from government and state media that depict prisoners of war in relation to the war in Ukraine.

Indian regulators blocked 22 YouTube channels, accusing them of spreading lies concerning national security and public order, according to Reuters. The crackdown comes shortly after the government took similar action against another 55 channels in December and January. Google reportedly asked Indian officials to not make the removals public, but the officials dismissed its request.

In the media, culture and metaverse

Companies are slashing Facebook advertising budgets in favor of Google search ads as Apple and Google’s privacy changes force a transition from third-party tracking to first-party tracking.

Instagram didn’t take action on 90% of the abusive DMs received by high-profile female users, according to a new study that analyzed the Instagram messages of five famous women, including actress Amber Heard. The study, from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, argues that Instagram failed to enforce its policies, even when these messages were reported.

Pinterest is banning a range of false content and ads around climate change, including when content “denies the existence or impacts of climate change,” contradicts the role of humans, makes claims about solutions in defiance of “well-established scientific consensus” or even cherry-picks data as part of an attempt to undermine trust in the science.

In data

$30,000: That’s how much GM and Honda may charge for the budget EV they’re co-developing. For comparison, the average used car in the U.S. sold for around $28,000 at the start of the year. The car lineup should arrive in North America by 2027 and could play a critical role in helping federal and state governments meet EV adoption goals.


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Tweeps need not apply

From the unprovoked internet beefs file: Substack’s vice president of Communications, Lulu Cheng Meservey, jabbed at Twitter employees who were upset about Musk’s appointment to the board. “If you’re a Twitter employee who’s considering resigning because you’re worried about Elon Musk pushing for less regulated speech… please do not come work here,” Cheng Meservey wrote in a tweet.

Thanks for reading — see you Friday!

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