Musk’s approach to managing Beijing

Tesla was the first foreign car maker to open a wholly owned factory in China, where the government has showered the company with tax breaks and cheap loans. For his part, Musk, who is quick to criticize the US government’s policies and regulatory agencies, has been one of China’s biggest cheerleaders.

Though the Shanghai lockdown cost the company’s Gigafactory three weeks of operations, Musk never criticized Beiing’s approach—while railing against similar orders in the US in 2020. This discrepancy in his stance toward the two governments, some worry, could play out in some form with respect to Twitter as well.

In addition, his description of himself as a “free speech absolutist” has some concerned that less moderation may lead to more misinformation, including from China-linked accounts. But some of the steps he outlined in a statement yesterday, including making the site’s algorithms open source, weeding out spam bots, and making sure accounts represent actual people, could reduce the impact of certain types of information operations.

In a follow-up to his first tweet, Bezos said he thought the most likely outcome is “complexity in China for Tesla, rather than censorship at Twitter…Musk is extremely good at navigating this kind of complexity.”

China’s pressure on foreign businesses over speech

China, however, has an established record of pressuring foreign businesses to tailor their public statements to its official narratives.

“Although Musk has of late enjoyed trolling the likes of Saudi Arabia for their views on freedom of speech, given Tesla’s dependence on China for future growth it’s unlikely he’ll have the same eagerness to publicly take on the Chinese Communist Party,” said Jordan Schneider, a senior analyst at Rhodium Group, referring to Musk’s war of words with Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who voiced his opposition to the Twitter sale as one of the company’s shareholders.

“How that reluctance extends to day-to-day moderation policy of state-owned media and state-backed botnets is anyone’s guess,” he told Quartz.

Twitter declined to comment. Tesla didn’t reply to a request for comment.

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