Elon Musk Bought Twitter Just in Time for a Social Media Crackdown
Musk’s Twitter is almost surely anticompetitive—and he could face consequences in the United States and European Union
This commentary was originally published in Future Tense at Slate on December 21, 2022.
Elon Musk’s leadership decisions at Twitter can be described as drastic, uncoordinated, and volatile—and, after the events of last week, anticompetitive. Around December 15, Twitter appeared to block users from sharing Mastodon links, claiming without evidence that its nascent competitor posed safety and malware risks. Soon after, on December 18, the company announced—and then, hours later, retracted—a new policy that would prevent individuals from listing usernames or links to several other social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Truth Social, and Mastodon. The second time, Musk openly admitted that his intention behind the move was to block competition (not to promote security), tweeting: “No more relentless free advertising of competitors.”
Unfortunately for Musk, the European Union and United States are both undergoing historic efforts to strengthen competition policy, and these are textbook examples of the exact type of behavior that legislators are eager to curb. The Digital Markets Act, or DMA, which the European Union signed into law in September, prevents “gatekeeper” platforms from engaging in certain anticompetitive or unfair practices such as restricting interoperability or giving preference to their own services over third-party competitors. The 117th Congress has seriously considered the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, or AICOA, a major piece of legislation that similarly proposes to stop dominant “covered platforms” from limiting or blocking third-party businesses from competing on their services. Although it’s unlikely to pass in the final days of the lame-duck session, some form of the measure will probably be reintroduced next year.