The Power of Ownership – Follow Musk

There was no shortage of jokes last week, when superstar tech entrepreneur and (maybe) richest man in the world Elon Musk announced his bid to buy all the shares in Twitter. Some of the best jokes were cracked by Musk himself, such as buying Coca-Cola and putting the cocaine back in.

First, let me come clean and say I’m sort of a Musk fanboy. I love the Tesla cars and that company has put pressure on the entire automotive industry to move to electric drive. Also fascinated by Space X and curious about Starlink (usual ISP-liability issues to follow though). Neuralink is more creepy and some of Musk’s tweeting… let’s say it takes some effort to love it.

A lot has been said about Musk’s plans for Twitter. Rolling back some of the restrictions and community rules, as well as some new features can be expected. Some say that might bring back Donald Trump to Twitter, which can be a blessing or the end of the world depending on your politics (I’m in the latter camp if you must know, surprise surprise). Elon Musk’s view of freedom of speech leaves some room for improvement, he himself has tried to cancel those who disagree with him on  several occasions. (Remember the boys stuck in the cave in Thailand? Musk hired an investigator to dig up dirt on the journalist who called his failed rescue sub a “PR stunt”.)

But this blog takes away something else from this story: the power of ownership. Musk doesn’t like the direction of his favourite online platform. So he buys it to make it more the way he wants it to be. Netopia has pondered before how to make Big Tech act more responsibly and clean up its own mess. Staff walk-outs, government intervention, ad boycotts… nothing seems to do the trick. But taking a page from Elon Musk, it’s the owner who has the ultimate power. The owner is the one who can bring change.

Great if you are the (maybe) richest man in the world, you might say. But do you know who owns Big Tech? Take a look in the mirror. A majority of the value of Big Tech shares is held by institutions. That means your pensions and mine. Our savings. Meta (Facebook): 80% institutions. Alphabet (Google) 67%. Amazon 67%. Apple 60%. Sure, there are portfolio managers who control these investments and not all shares have the same vote. But still: What if we were to take a page from Elon Musk and actually use some of this power? What would you do? Put the cocaine back in? Save democracy? Make the internet great again?