Twitter has accepted a $44 billion offer from Elon Musk to acquire the company. (Image source: Getty)
Twitter finally gave in to a hostile takeover bid by billionaire Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk. This unique takeover is worthy of many future doctoral studies of the reality and sovereignty of the cyberworld. This is no ordinary, regular corporate takeover, but raises many questions about physical versus virtual sovereignty.
Why the takeover of Twitter
Business takeovers are usually made with the intention of expanding an existing business or acquiring a new business with the potential to generate profits or for the purpose of expanding. Did Elon Musk acquire Twitter for any of these purposes?
The answer is clear and simple no.
This could be corroborated by the fact that he has clearly expressed his intention to make Twitter a private company. Paying an exorbitant price of $44 billion and having it taken off the exchange is no joke. He arranged this money personally and individually. Twitter as a business would be subject to great uncertainty and there could be the arrival of rival Twitter-like social media platforms.
Why then did Musk acquire a company when he has the least interest in his business?
He didn’t mince words in expressing his intent and purpose behind the Twitter acquisition. He wishes to make it private so that he can establish rules in accordance with his own understanding of “saving democracy”.
Twitter users would now be playing by the rules determined by Elon Musk and his kitchen cabinet, as permitted by US corporate law. The only legal requirement he is bound to now is that he must comply with company rules for private companies. He is free to establish rules and policies he deems appropriate for what he calls restoring “freedom of speech and expression.”
Simply put, he wants to legislate, enforce and maybe decide who broke those rules or not.
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Twitter and sovereign states
Not in the very distant past, India’s then Minister of Information and Technology, Ravi Shankar Prasad, had his Twitter account suspended. Indian courts have also found themselves utterly powerless to compel the platform to comply with its orders.
Twitter is not even an Indian incorporated company. The Information Technology Rules 2021 (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Code of Ethics for Digital Media) was developed by the Government of India exclusively to deal with cyber-related businesses, such as Twitter.
The effectiveness of these rules in terms of desired outcomes is still debatable.
Now this platform, which would be a private enterprise, would have sovereign heads who would use it to communicate with the world and their own people.
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Twitter and the Internet
The concept of sovereign primarily involves these acts, which are the prerogative of institutions called states. For example, law-making is an exclusive prerogative of the state, no one else can do it. However, the Internet is an exception. The management and governance rules are established by a private entity called ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), and they are binding on the States.
Twitter is a tool that uses the Internet Protocol. Thus, sovereign states are bound by the rules established by ICANN and, also, companies such as Twitter that use the Internet. As a result, we see that sovereign institutions find themselves subject to the rules enacted by private entities with questionable powers to regulate them.
Twitter is subject to US law and therefore may have some influence over the operation of the company within its constitutional freedoms. Nevertheless, sovereign entities like India and other states have very little influence.
India will be subject to the definition of freedom of speech and expression as understood by Musk and his team. Indian courts would have no say in their interpretation of this definition, which will bind the Indian legislature and executive.
READ ALSO | As Elon Musk strikes a deal to buy Twitter, here’s a list of the top 10 shareholders
Takeaways from the Twitter takeover
Cybersecurity and cybersovereignty would pose a threat to the international global order like never before. They have already announced the paradigm shift in the world order, of which the UN charter is the constitution. Corporations are already more powerful than many states. This takeover by an individual makes the situation more alarming.
These giant corporations are already bigger than many nation states – for perspective, the Sri Lankan economic crisis is only $51 billion. It is a shining example of change in the world order and the advent of an international technological order in which companies would be the main actor. They would determine election results, the fate of armed conflict, and the industrial health of any state. States must fasten their seat belts and prepare to reclaim their cyber sovereignty.
The author is a doctoral student at the University of Hamburg. He has written two books on financial laws.
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