The richest man in the world has moved one step closer to owning an influential social-media platform.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk put in a US$41-billion cash offer today for Twitter with the goal of taking it private and making it a bastion of "free speech".
"I invested in Twitter as I believe in its potential to be the platform for free speech around the globe, and I believe free speech is a societal imperative for a functioning democracy," Musk stated in a filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
He's willing to pay US$54.20 per share for the company. Musk's net worth is US$273.6 billion, according to Forbes.
Musk's bid has supporters of Donald Trump hoping that a takeover will enable the former president to get back on Twitter after he was banned following an attempted coup in 2021.
Twitter and other social-media platforms like YouTube and Facebook are shielded from libel lawsuits in the U.S. under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
This ensures that these providers of interactive computer services are not deemed to be publishers if they don't edit material, don't create or develop illegal material, and comply with promises to remove material.
But this legal protection is not codified in law in many other countries.
Twitter sued for libel in B.C.
In British Columbia Supreme Court, for example, a billionaire resident of West Vancouver, Frank Giustra, is suing Twitter for defamation. Giustra, a former member of the board of the Clinton Foundation, alleges he was repeatedly libelled on the platform in the lead-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Last year, a B.C. Supreme Court judge rejected Twitter's application that California would be a more appropriate venue for the case to be heard. If Giustra wins his case—and if a judge determines that Twitter is a publisher in B.C. that is liable for posts on the platform—it could open the door for more lawsuits.
The parliamentary leader of the Green Party of Canada, Elizabeth May, has called on the federal government to declare in law that Twitter and other social-media giants are publishers.
If that were to happen, Twitter would face the same legal restrictions with posts on its platform that broadcasters and publishers must adhere to with their news reports—i.e., they must meet one of the five legal defences for defamation (justification [i.e. truth], fair comment, privilege, qualified privilege or responsible communication).
May's comment came in a feature article about the massive amount of misogyny directed at Canadian female politicians over social-media platforms, including Twitter.
In 2020, a court in Australia ruled that Google was liable for defamation after its search engine linked a lawyer to mobsters in the state of Victoria. The lawyer was awarded $40,000.