Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, reached out to Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s chief executive, a few weeks ago with a friendly heads-up. He was buying shares of the social media company, Mr. Musk confided, and wanted to discuss how to make Twitter better.
Mr. Musk had ideas for reshaping social networks that dovetailed with those of Mr. Agrawal and Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s co-founder, according to their public exchanges. All three have floated the notion of radically shifting the power in social networking to users and away from behemoth companies, by using an approach to technology that would give people control over what they see in their social media feeds.
In the ensuing weeks, Mr. Agrawal discussed having Mr. Musk become a more active participant in Twitter’s future, according to two people with knowledge of the conversations who were not authorized to speak publicly. Mr. Agrawal also welcomed having Mr. Musk — who has more than 80 million Twitter followers and sometimes tweets a dozen or more times a day — join the company’s board, one of the people said.
On Tuesday, Twitter announced that Mr. Musk, 50, would be appointed to its 11-person board in a term that expires in 2024. That followed the revelation on Monday that Mr. Musk had accumulated a 9.2 percent stake in Twitter, making him its biggest shareholder. Mr. Musk has agreed not to own more than 14.9 percent of Twitter’s stock or take over the company, which is based in San Francisco, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
“Through conversations with Elon in recent weeks, it became clear to us that he would bring great value to our board,” Mr. Agrawal tweeted on Tuesday.
The addition of one of Twitter’s most powerful users to its board has implications for a social network where world leaders, lawmakers, celebrities and more than 217 million users conduct their daily public discourse. Unlike some other Twitter board members, Mr. Musk did not sign an agreement that forbade him from influencing the company’s policies. That could allow him to work with Mr. Agrawal on a futuristic vision for “decentralized” social networking.
That vision challenges the way that platforms are created. Core technologies would be built publicly and transparently, with oversight and input from coders around the world. Users could then customize their social media feeds and establish their own rules about what kinds of speech are acceptable. That’s very different from how social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are now set up, with the companies dictating what posts can stay up and what should be removed.
The plan jibes with Mr. Musk’s, Mr. Dorsey’s and Mr. Agrawal’s beliefs in unfettered free speech. Mr. Musk has criticized Twitter for moderating its platform too restrictively and has said more speech should be allowed. Mr. Dorsey, too, grappled with the decision to boot former President Donald J. Trump off the service last year, saying he did not “celebrate or feel pride” in the move. Mr. Agrawal has said that public conversation provides an inherent good for society.
Their positions have increasingly become outliers in a global debate over free speech online, as more people have questioned whether too much free speech has enabled the spread of misinformation and divisive content.
In a tweet on Tuesday, Mr. Musk, who leads the companies Tesla and SpaceX, said he hoped to “make significant improvements to Twitter in coming months.” He did not elaborate and did not respond to a request for comment. Mr. Agrawal and Mr. Dorsey also did not respond to requests for comment.
A Twitter spokesman said Mr. Musk would not have a hand in policymaking at the company. Day-to-day policy decisions would still be made by Twitter employees, he said, and the company would be impartial in developing and enforcing its rules.
Mr. Musk could bring turbulence to Twitter. He has long used the service as a cudgel, trolling short-sellers of Tesla and insulting critics. He has also spread inaccurate information about the pandemic. After he mused about taking Tesla private in a tweet in 2018 and inaccurately claimed he had secured funding for the transaction, he was fined $40 million by the S.E.C.
His appointment to Twitter’s board was celebrated on Tuesday by some Republicans, who have accused the company of political bias and censoring right-wing voices. “Musk. Free speech,” said Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican of Ohio.
(Democrats, whom Mr. Musk has tangled with online over the party’s proposed wealth tax, were not vocal.)
David Kaye, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, who formerly worked with the United Nations on speech issues, warned that Mr. Musk’s vision for free speech could conflict…
Read More: Elon Musk Joins Twitter Board