Elon Musk is ‘now existing in a world where there are no rules’

The Federal Trade Commission, which fined Twitter $150 million this summer and is used to being taken seriously, wasn’t too happy and issued a rare slapback saying that “no CEO or company is above the law”.

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As Musk’s empire grows — and he fiddles with the dials on a very public platform like Twitter while actively tracking down the politicians who run the capital — he’s likely to be more directly in the crosshairs of regulators and elected leaders.

So what?

I recently spoke with Tom Wheeler, a Brookings fellow, former FCC chairman and former venture capitalist himself, to get his thoughts on the political pushback Musk is likely to receive as he quickly tinkers with the “digital city square”. Our conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows:

By becoming the chief moderator of Twitter, Musk exposed himself not only to regulatory risk but also to political risk. How well do you think he’ll manage to handle it?

When mark [Zuckerberg] saw that there would soon be a thing called visual social media, or social virtual reality, he started planning and he clearly has a vision for it. I haven’t seen Musk exemplify that kind of big, long-term view. It’s more of an “I’m smart, I can come and fix anything, let me throw it against the wall” approach.

[Announcing his purchase of Twitter at] $54.20 per share has nothing to do with finance, and everything to do with “Hey, isn’t that cool?” The dog caught the bus, and now he’s trying to figure out how to ride it.

What are the risks that he and his team may not be thinking about?

Well, Musk has been the darling of the right. It’s an open question whether, say, Donald Trump’s return to Twitter is good or bad for Republicans. My reaction when he said “Well, we’ll wait until after the election” [to reinstate Trump’s account]which coincides with when Trump would announce his re-election campaign, was that you can’t play one side and ignore everyone.

At the same time, his problems in Congress are unlikely to be strictly partisan. It’s like the old story of Sam Rayburn talking to a young Lyndon Johnson, when Johnson rang the bell and said the Republicans were the enemy, and Rayburn said, “No, the Republicans are our opponents. The Senate is our enemy.

There are many people [in the Senate] who care about Twitter, and say “That’s my problem”. Dealing with Washington isn’t walking through a poppy field, it’s walking through a minefield, which I haven’t seen Musk succeed at.

What do you think of the concept of “jaw” and how might this intersect with Musk’s ownership of Twitter, especially post-midterms?

We [at the FCC] discouraged the first iteration of the T-Mobile-Sprint merger, saying, “You’re welcome to present all the facts and then we’ll make a decision based on the facts, but we don’t think that’s a good idea. ” They gave up the effort.

But there’s another kind of jawbone: Congress is going to want to hear from Mr. Musk, and even if you think you’re up there to testify about rockets or cars, the question “Why did you allow this hate speech on Twitter” is definitely going to happen. Congress, when it cannot legislate, uses hearings to compel.

A group of committee chairs once told me that if I didn’t do what they wanted me to do on a particular topic, they would call me before their committee once a month. And they kept their promise.

And while Musk is used to operating in heavily regulated and established industries like aerospace and automotive, he has now entered one of the most murky, volatile and politically contentious regulatory areas he could have. .

Even Adam Smith said there was a need for regulation before the “invisible hand” could work. When you enter a heavily regulated field, like automobiles, batteries, or spaceflight, you know what the rules are. In an unregulated environment, there is no certainty about expectations.

He now exists in a world where there are no rules, where he says he can make the rules, to which I say: good luck.

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