Elon Musk says that Twitter's algorithm should be open source

“I'm not saying that I have all the answers here,” he said.

POOL New / reuters

If Elon Musk is indeed able to buy Twitter, the platform could look a lot different. In his first public, non-tweeted comments since the saga began, Musk addressed why he wants to buy the company, and changes he would want to bring about.

“Twitter has become kind of the de-facto town square,” he said. “It's just really important that people have both the reality and the perception that they're able to speak freely within the bounds of the law.”

In terms of specific changes, Musk said Twitter should open-source its algorithms and minimize the interventions it takes in policing content. “Any changes to people's tweets — if they're emphasized or de-emphasized — that action should be made apparent,” he said. “So anyone can see that that action has been taken so there's no sort of behind-the-scenes manipulation, either algorithmically or manually.”

He added that the underlying code behind the algorithm should be available on GitHub, so that users could inspect it themselves.

Musk also spoke about his philosophy on content moderation, namely that there should be very little of it. “I think we would want to err on the side of, if in doubt, let the speech exist,” he said. “I'm not saying that I have all the answers here.” He repeated several times that his preference would be to allow all speech that is legal, and that he dislikes measures like permanent bans. “I do think that we want to be just very reluctant to delete things and be very cautious with permanent bans,” he said. “You know, timeouts I think are better than sort of permanent bans.”

Those comments are not likely to be well-received among Twitter employees, some of whom were reportedly extremely worried by the prospect of him joining the board.

Musk’s appearance at TED comes just hours after the Tesla CEO made a $43 billion offer to buy Twitter. That offer was the culmination of a chaotic few days for Musk and Twitter, during which he revealed that he had become Twitter’s largest shareholder, was offered a seat on the company’s board of directors, declined to join and was subsequently sued by Twitter shareholders over his delay in reporting his investment to the SEC.

Whether Musk will actually succeed in taking over the company is unclear. Twitter’s board has so far only said that it will “review” the offer. “I'm not sure that I will actually be able to acquire it,” he said. When asked if he had a "plan B," if Twitter's board were to decline his offer, he said that he did but declined to elaborate.

As for his own Twitter feed, Musk confirmed what many may have long suspected. “I'm tweeting more or less stream of consciousness,” he said. “It's not like, ‘let me think about some grand plan about my Twitter’ or whatever. I'm like, literally, on the toilet like, ‘oh, this is funny,’ and then tweet that out, you know?”