For Miyoung Kim and Martin Quin Pollard and Supantha Mukherjee
BEIJING/STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos asked on his Twitter account whether Elon Musk’s purchase of the social network will give China “a little bit of leverage over the city square.”
Twitter is blocked in China, where Musk, the richest person in the world, has important business interests.
Musk, who calls himself a “free speech absolutist” and has criticized Twitter’s content moderation policy, reached an agreement on Monday to buy the company for $44 billion.
Political activists reckon the deal will mean less moderation on Twitter and the reinstatement of banned individuals, including former US President Donald Trump.
There are also questions about what the deal will mean for Twitter’s content policy in China, as Musk’s electric vehicle maker Tesla is heavily reliant on the Asian country for production and sales.
“Did the Chinese government just gain some leverage over the town square?” Bezos wrote on Twitter late Monday.
“My own answer to that question is probably no. The most likely outcome in this regard is complexity in China for Tesla rather than Twitter censorship,” Bezos later wrote.
Musk said in a tweet on Monday: “I hope even my worst critics stay on Twitter because that’s what free speech is all about.”
In a statement following Twitter’s takeover announcement, Musk said that “freedom of expression is the foundation of a functioning democracy and that the social network is the digital city square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”
China’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that there was no basis for speculation that Beijing might try to use influence over Tesla to influence content on Twitter.
A Tesla spokesperson said the company would not comment on the matter. Twitter did not respond.