Businessman Jeff Bezos, considered the second richest man in the world, reposted a tweet from a New York Times reporter that raises doubts whether China will have more influence over Twitter now that the platform has been bought by his rival, Elon Musk.
China is the second largest market for Tesla, an electric car company that is also owned by Musk, as well as a main supplier of components for its batteries. The Chinese government banned Twitter in its territory in 2009, but opponents still use the network, through VPNs.
Reporter Mike Forsythe’s insinuation is that, in order to maintain the good business relationship, Musk may become more susceptible to pressure from Chinese authorities on the platform.
Bezos retweeted it saying it was an “interesting” question. He added: “Has the Chinese government just gained a little influence over the town square?”
The term “town square” is a direct reference to Musk himself, who once called Twitter “the digital city square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”
However, Jeff Bezos himself answered the question in the following messages.
“My own answer to that question is ‘probably not’. The most likely outcome in this regard is complexity for Tesla in China rather than Twitter censorship.”
He added: “But let’s see. Musk is extremely good at dealing with that kind of complexity.”
My own answer to this question is probably not. The more likely outcome in this regard is complexity in China for Tesla, rather than censorship at Twitter.
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) April 26, 2022
The importance of Twitter in China
The debate, however, is far from over.
“Many people in China take great risks (including constant police harassment and years in prison) to be able to access Twitter and discover information censored by the Chinese government,” researcher Yaqiu Wang, from Human Rights Watch (an NGO dedicated to Human rights).
In the past, Twitter has even suspended bots linked to the Chinese government that were spreading disinformation about issues such as the protests that took over Hong Kong in 2019.
The possible Chinese influence could also have ramifications in international relations.
Jen Paski, spokeswoman for the White House, stressed that “President [dos EUA, Joe Biden] has previously spoken out about his concerns about the power of social media platforms, including Twitter and others, to spread disinformation.”