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‘Terrified’: Musk Twitter buyout bid rattles tech world

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'Terrified': Musk Twitter buyout bid rattles tech world


Elon Musk’s bid to take over Twitter left tech world unnerved – Copyright POOL/AFP/File Britta Pedersen

Joshua MELVIN

Elon Musk’s shock offer to buy Twitter drew immediate fears Thursday – and some cheers – over putting the platform in the hands of a mercurial billionaire who advocates fewer limits on what people can post.

Tech watchers reacted to the Tesla chief’s proposal for one of the world’s most influential information exchanges with immediate worries about accountability, public discourse and even how it could impact democracy.

“Twitter is too important to be owned and controlled by a single person,” tweeted venture capitalist Fred Wilson. “The opposite should be happening. Twitter should be decentralized.”

However, the $43 billion pitch faces uncertainty on several fronts, including potential board or shareholder resistance, as well as lack of information on how Musk would actually fund the all-cash offer.

Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has already come out against the proposal, saying it’s too low, drawing a sharp reply from Musk questioning Saudi Arabia’s “views on journalistic freedom of speech.”

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Still, Musk provided some detail Thursday on his vision, saying he’d like to lift the veil on the algorithm that runs on the platform, even allowing people to look through it and suggest changes.

He also reiterated his stance favoring a more hands-off approach to policing the platform’s content, a thorny matter that has fueled criticism of Twitter, especially for the highest-profile instances of violations of its terms of service.

Donald Trump’s critics had long called for him to be kicked off the site, yet his supporters then voiced their outrage after he was barred over worries his tweets could spur violence.

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“I do think that we want to be just very reluctant to delete things and just be very cautious with permanent bans. Timeouts, I think are better,” Musk told a conference on Thursday, without addressing Trump directly.

“I think we want to really have, like a sort of obsession and reality, that speech is as free as reasonably possible,” he added.

– ‘Sounds ridiculous’ –

Critics argued that free speech absolutism on social media can be very messy in the real world.

“I am frightened by the impact on society and politics if Elon Musk acquires Twitter,” tweeted Max Boot, a Washington Post columnist.

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“He seems to believe that on social media anything goes. For democracy to survive, we need more content moderation, not less,” Boot added.

Yet supporters of Musk’s hostile takeover bid came to the exact opposite conclusion, welcoming the prospect.

“This is the best news for free speech in years!” tweeted Nigel Farage, a populist British politician who helped lead the campaign for Brexit.

American conservatives like Senator Ted Cruz also voiced their backing for less moderation.

“If the left thinks they’re right, why are they so terrified of free speech?” he tweeted in reply to Boot’s criticism.

Yet both left and right of the political spectrum in the United States have been skeptical of the power concentrated in the hands of social media platforms and their lack of accountability.

US national lawmakers have been deadlocked for so long over how to regulate Big Tech that individual states have launched their own rules, probes and lawsuits.

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“Twitter as a private company just reduces the little public accountability social media have as fiduciaries to the public,” tweeted Maya Zehavi, a tech entrepreneur.

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Facebook’s parent firm Meta is public, but founder Mark Zuckerberg has effective control over the company because of the shares he owns.

Critics have repeatedly argued that a barrier to Facebook evolving past its reputation as a troubled but profitable social network is the ability for its head to remain in power.

The idea of taking Twitter, which is currently publicly owned, toward a structure that would concentrate power in Musk’s hands struck some as contradictory.

It has been called the world’s town square for the exchange of ideas, and thus a place where the right to speak is primary.

“‘I have to buy and take the public square private in order to save it!’ Try saying it out loud. It sounds ridiculous,” tweeted Renee DiResta, technical research manager at Stanford Internet Observatory.



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‘Crime not to help’: South Korean ex-SEAL has no Ukraine regrets

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South Korean Navy SEAL turned YouTuber Ken Rhee told AFP he has no regrets about his decision to fight in Ukraine

South Korean Navy SEAL turned YouTuber Ken Rhee told AFP he has no regrets about his decision to fight in Ukraine – Copyright AFP Jung Yeon-je

Cat Barton and Kang Jin-kyu

A former South Korean Navy SEAL turned YouTuber who risked jail time to leave Seoul and fight for Ukraine says it would have been a “crime” not to use his skills to help.

Ken Rhee, an ex-special warfare officer, signed up at the Ukrainian Embassy in Seoul the moment President Volodymyr Zelensky asked for global volunteers and was fighting on the front lines near Kyiv by early March.

To get there, he had to break South Korean law — Seoul banned its citizens from travelling to Ukraine, and Rhee, who was injured in a fall while leading a special operations patrol there, was met at the airport by 15 police officers on his return.

But the celebrity ex-soldier, who has a YouTube channel with 700,000 followers and documented much of his Ukraine experience on his popular Instagram account, says he has no regrets.

“You’re walking down the beach and you see a sign by the water saying ‘no swimming’ — but you see someone drowning. It’s a crime not to help. That’s how I see it,” he told AFP.

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Rhee was born in South Korea but raised in the United States. He attended the Virginia Military Institute and planned to join the US Navy SEALS, but his father — a “patriot”, he says — convinced his son to return to South Korea to enlist.

He served for seven years, undergoing both US and Korean SEAL training and doing multiple stints in war zones in Somalia and Iraq before leaving to set up a defence consultancy.

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“I have the skillset. I have the experience. I was in two different wars, and going to Ukraine, I knew I could help,” he said, adding that he viewed breaking South Korea’s passport law to leave as equivalent to a “traffic violation”.

– Backlash in Korea –

But the reaction in South Korea — where Rhee shot to fame as a trainer in the popular YouTube series “Fake Men” — was swift and unforgiving.

“It was instant. People in Korea, they just criticised me about breaking the law,” said Rhee.

His critics claim the 38-year-old’s decision was criminally irresponsible, and point to his posting of war footage on his YouTube and Instagram accounts as evidence of showboating.

Rhee says he tries not to let the furore get to him. “I think it’s pretty obvious who the good guys are and who the bad guys are,” he said of Russia and Ukraine. 

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On his first day on the frontline in Irpin — which he describes as “the Wild West” and “chaos” — he says he witnessed Russian war crimes.

“I saw a civilian get shot. He was driving… and they shot him through the windshield and he died in front of us,” he said.

“It was like: there’s my proof. There’s definitely war crimes going on. It reminded me and my teammates what we were doing and why we were there,” he said.

Because of his military training, Rhee was told to set up his own team, so he recruited other volunteers with combat experience and set up a multi-national special operations group.

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“I was eating Canadian MREs. My gun was from the Czech Republic. I have a Javelin missile from the United States. I have a rocket that’s from Germany… but nothing is Korean,” he said.

He tried to take his Korean-made night vision goggles but was not given government export permission. Seoul has provided non-lethal aid to Kyiv, but Rhee said they could do more.

“Korea has state-of-the-art equipment… they’re very good at making weapons,” he said.

– ‘See you in Taiwan’ –

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Russia said this week that 13 South Koreans had travelled to Ukraine — including four who were killed. Seoul said it was trying to verify the claims.

Although Rhee did not know the fate of all his teammates, he said “a lot of my friends have died”.

“I don’t want my friends’ sacrifices to be forgotten,” he said, adding that he plans to write a book — and maybe a screenplay — about his team’s experiences.

But first, he needs to deal with the official repercussions of his trip. He is quietly optimistic South Korea’s new conservative administration won’t put him in jail.

Rhee is not allowed to leave the country until his case is resolved, and is receiving treatment for his injuries. But he hopes one day to fight alongside his teammates again, for a cause they believe in.

The joke as people left the frontline was: “See you in Taiwan,” he said, referring darkly to the risk that Beijing will follow Moscow’s lead and invade a neighbouring democracy.

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