Musk’s political goals were always front and center in Twitter talks
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy! Today I’m finding the Musk texts way too familiar. Plus, Congress actually passes antitrust laws, New York goes all in on EVs, and Amazon’s new paycheck program may actually put the company under a whole new government microscope.
Currently, I’m on a Discord server filled with people struggling to find a date to start a new D&D campaign, and I’m also on a meme text thread that’s cracking up about those chess cheating/sex toy allegations. Unlike me, Elon Musk’s chats involve some of the most powerful people in the world, determining the future of global communications and political speech.
- The texts to and from Musk have emerged as part of the ongoing litigation between Musk and Twitter over his attempt to walk away from the deal to take the company private.
- This is must-read stuff if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to text with Musk or Joe Rogan or Jack Dorsey or Larry Ellison or even apparently Gayle King (who wrote that doing an interview would be “as the kids of today say a ‘gangsta move.’”)
- The texts are pretty much a live readout of the launch and collapse of Musk’s takeover deal. They also show Musk the engineer, Musk the (very) occasionally ego-in-check charmer, and a whole lot of suck-up from finance types who wanted in.
What the messages also reveal, though, is how much Musk’s moves were part of a political power play by the ultimate power players.
- From the get-go, Musk seemed to want the company because of concerns about content moderation and the treatment of political (specifically, conservative) posts.
- Some over-savvy observers still taken with the idea of Musk the 4D chess player may have thought all this political stuff was just cover, a kind of strategic public whip-up that hid a desire to wrangle bots or facilitate payments and actually, you know, make money.
But no. Several of Musk’s advisers-by-text — including Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Axel Springer, which owns Protocol — lament the state of free speech and beg him to save it. He responds in kind occasionally.
- Rogan asked if Musk is going to “liberate Twitter from the censorship happy mob.” Later, he said, if Musk succeeds, they “should throw a hell of a party.” (Musk responded with the 💯 emoji.)
- David Sacks tried to connect Musk with Libertarian former Rep. Justin Amash.
- There’s a back-and-forth with Antonio Gracias, of PE firm Valor Equity Firms, about Europe’s ban of Russian propaganda network RT following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Musk said RT has a “lot of bullshit, but some good points too,” and called it “quite entertaining.”
- Musk then said free speech means protecting “what you think is bullshit.” Gracias agreed: “To the fucking mattrersses no matter what,” he responded. “This is a principle we need to fucking defend with our lives or we are lost to the darkness.”
Some of the most political discussions arose when Musk was chatting with Joe Lonsdale, a Palantir co-founder and acolyte of Peter Thiel.
- Lonsdale at one point said he was going to bring up Musk’s open-source algorithm comments at a GOP policy retreat “so I’ll sound less crazy myself.” Musk answered, “What we have right now is hidden corruption!”
- Lonsdale also speculated that “the lefties on the board want plausible deniability” and so don’t dig into “censorship decisions and little cabals going on.”
Musk, it turns out, basically believes what he says, like most people. He genuinely talks about his vision of a more conservative Twitter as a free speech issue and has a circle of like-minded friends who reinforce each other’s views.
- But it’s worth remembering that that circle where Lonsdale complained of “little cabals” without a hint of irony was pretty successfully aligning the forces of finance, politics, and technology behind its ideological goals.
- And that goal is shifting a massively influential global communications platform.
Take it from me as a D.C. denizen: It’s all a good reminder of the nature of power. People who are rich or who have big megaphones aren’t really always as refined or as reflective as their comms people make them sound. They can believe things that the media is fast to label rube-ish. Usually, they’re just trying to get richer or telling themselves their self-interest actually fulfills some lofty principle. And however much they might cast themselves as part of the oppressed, they always seem to know just who to reach out to.— Ben Brody (email | twitter)
The House passed a series of antitrust bills, which are expected to pass through the Senate. The package strengthens existing antitrust law but stops short of introducing new measures, such as the ones proposed in the more extensive American Innovation and Choice Online Act. The bills include:
- The Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act would provide funds for the antitrust divisions of the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department by collecting higher fees from premerger filings.
- The State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act of 2022 would prevent companies from transferring antitrust cases brought by states out of government enforcers’ preferred courts. The bill is intended to empower state attorneys general.
- The Foreign Merger Subsidy Disclosure Act requires companies to disclose any subsidies received from U.S. adversaries — most notably China — in premerger filings.
Palantir won a $229 million contract with the Department of Defense. The yearlong contract involves Palantir providing AI and machine learning services to the U.S. military.
Democrats in Congress urged the FTC to block Amazon’s iRobot acquisition. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Reps. Katie Porter and Pramila Jayapal were among those who signed the letter, which asks the FTC to block the acquisition for both market concentration and data privacy concerns. “Amazon has repeatedly used data collection to crowd out competition and further establish its dominance with consumers,” the group wrote.The Federal Communications Commission wants satellite providers to clean up after themselves — in space. Through new rules approved yesterday, low-Earth orbit satellite providers will be required to dispose of defunct satellites within five years. The move is intended to limit the possibility of orbital collisions due to a buildup of space junk.
A MESSAGE FROM QUALCOMM
Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.
In the states
New York state will ban new gas-powered vehicle sales by 2035. California passed a similar law just a few weeks ago. New York also set checkpoint targets to have 35% of new car sales be zero-emission vehicles by 2026, and 68% by 2030.
Amazon expanded an early-access paycheck program. All U.S. Amazon employees will have access to Anytime Pay, which advances up to 70% of earned pay without fees. However, consumer groups are asking the CFPB to scrutinize the sector out of fear of consumer harm.
State regulators want to block Celsius’ planned sale of stablecoin holdings. Regulators from Vermont and Texas filed motions arguing that those sales by the failed stablecoin operator could be used to resume operations, violating their respective state laws.Nevada is considering using drones and surveillance bracelets to monitor incarcerated people. State officials say they are facing a severe labor shortage for corrections officers.
In the courts
NetChoice and CCIA again asked a federal appeals court to block the Texas social media law. The unopposed filing argues that the status quo should remain while everyone waits to see if the Supreme Court takes up the case. The 5th Circuit Court recently ruled that Texas could enforce its social media law.
An eBay official was sentenced to nearly five years in jail for harassing corporate critics. The official, James Baugh, pleaded guilty to charges of orchestrating a harassment campaign, along with several other eBay employees, against bloggers who were critical of the company.
Protocol spoke with France’s former minister of state for digital, Cédric O. He touched on the potential for a EU-U.S. decoupling, regulating Web3, and regulatory priorities in Europe.
Protocol has answers to your questions about California’s new pay transparency laws. “I don’t think they’re going to be able to get around it in California, because once you have employees in California, California has all the protections of this law,” Aaron Goldstein, a Seattle-based partner at the law firm Dorsey & Whitney, told Protocol.
778 million cubic meters: That’s how much natural gas may have leaked from the Nord Stream pipelines, according to estimates from the Danish Energy Agency. To put that in perspective, that’s about a third of the total annual emissions in Denmark.
“What did you get done this week?”
In another text log gem, Parag Agrawal asked Musk if he could tone down the tweets in order to help the company be less distracted. Musk, who has been critical of Twitter’s productivity, responded, “What did you get done this week?” He added, “I’m not joining the board. This is a waste of time.”
A MESSAGE FROM QUALCOMM
If we want our nation’s rich history of innovation to continue, experts say, we must create an IP protection ecosystem that helps ensure that tech innovation will thrive.
Thanks for reading — see you Monday.