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Will Musk’s hands-off ideal for Twitter have broad appeal?

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By Matt O’brien And Tom Krisher

Coming up with $44 billion to buy Twitter was the easy part for Elon Musk.

Next comes the real challenge for the world’s richest person: fulfilling his promise to make Twitter “better than ever” as a lightly regulated haven for free speech.

His vision for improving the 16-year-old company leans heavily on a pledge to make speech “as free as reasonably possible” on the platform — a commitment that’s been celebrated on the political right and among followers of former President Donald Trump, whose account last year was permanently banned. For others who worry that Musk will give free rein to agitators who spew hate, lies and other harmful content, making the platform too toxic for advertisers and average users, Musk has offered few assurances.

“The extreme antibody reaction from those who fear free speech says it all,” he tweeted Tuesday

Many of Musk’s proposed changes reflect his own experience as a high-profile and outspoken Twitter user with more than 85 million followers and a swarm of pesky impersonator accounts that use his name and photo to promote cryptocurrency schemes. The statement announcing his acquisition of Twitter on Monday highlighted the need to defeat “spam bots” that mimic real users.

But what about Twitter’s more than 200 million other users who aren’t getting banned or flooded with spam? There’s still a lot of uncertainty about whether his ideas are technologically feasible and whether these changes would benefit most regular users, or serve some other purpose.

“He’s made it pretty clear he’s not interested in making Twitter a profitable enterprise,” said Joan Donovan, who studies misinformation at Harvard University. “It’s about the power and the influence of Twitter itself and its importance in our culture.”

Experts who have studied content moderation and researched Twitter for years have expressed doubt that Musk knows exactly what he is getting into. And some of the problems he has identified aren’t felt by most users.

“The spam bots, for him, are highly visible and somewhat personal,” said Donovan. “Most people don’t see a lot of these spammy accounts.”

And for those unhappy with the company’s crackdown on hate, harassment and misinformation, there are plenty of fledgling examples of “free speech”-focused social media platforms that have been launched in the past few years as Twitter antidotes, largely by conservatives. Many have struggled to deal with toxic content, and at least one has been cut off by its own technology providers in protest.

“This move just shows how effective (moderation features) have been to annoy those in power,” said Kirsten Martin, a professor of technology ethics at the University of Notre Dame. “I would be worried as to how this would change Twitter’s values.”

The fact that no other bidders emerged in public before Musk’s deal was a sign that other would-be acquirers might find Twitter too difficult to improve, said Third Bridge analyst Scott Kessler.

“This platform is pretty much the same one we’ve had over the last decade or so,” Kessler said. “You’ve had a lot of smart people trying to figure out what they should do, and they’ve had trouble. It’s probably going to be tough to make a lot of headway.”

Musk received an effusive, if highly abstract, endorsement from Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey, who praised Musk’s decision to take Twitter “ back from Wall Street ” and tweeted that he trusts Musk’s mission to “ extend the light of consciousness ” — a reference to Dorsey’s notion that “Twitter is the closest thing we have to a global consciousness.”

But others familiar with Twitter say they’re dismayed at Musk’s successful bid for the company.

“Twitter is going to let a man-child essentially take over their platform,” said Leslie Miley, a former Twitter employee who has also worked for Google and Apple. Miley, who was the only Black engineer at Twitter in a leadership position when he left the company in 2015, echoed doubts about Musk’s grasp of the platform’s complexities.

“I am not sure if Elon knows what he is getting,” Miley said. “He may just find that having Twitter is a lot different than wanting Twitter.”

The more hands-off approach to content moderation that Musk envisions has many users concerned that the platform will reanimate accounts that propagated dangerous conspiracies and harassment.

Wall Street analysts said if he goes too far, it could also alienate advertisers — Twitter’s chief revenue source. And it could make it harder to retain the San Francisco-based company’s more than 7,500 employees, some of whom are already voicing concerns about the possibility of a backslide on content standards.

In Europe, officials reminded Musk about a new law, the Digital Services Act, that will force tech companies to step up policing of their online platforms.

“Be it cars or social media, any company operating in Europe needs to comply with our rules – regardless of their shareholding,” tweeted Thierry Breton, the European Union commissioner in charge of the bloc’s internal market. “Mr. Musk knows this well. He is familiar with European rules on automotive, and will quickly adapt to the Digital Services Act.”

Musk’s takeover is not yet a done deal and still awaits the approval of a majority of Twitter’s stockholders. Twitter previously scheduled its annual shareholders meeting for May 25, but a regulatory filing Tuesday said the company will be convening a special meeting “as promptly as reasonably practicable.”

While there are likely to be some bumps along the way, there don’t appear to be serious enough obstacles to stop the deal, according to Charles Elson, director of the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware.

Twitter or Musk can walk away from the deal if it’s not completed by Oct. 24, but if either Musk or Twitter is deemed responsible for the deal not going forward, they would have to pay a $1 billion termination fee, according to details of the transaction contained in a regulatory filing published Tuesday. The filing also showed that Twitter will drop a “poison pill” measure it had earlier adopted to defend against Musk’s takeover by making it prohibitively expensive.

Normally when companies go private, dissenting shareholders are forcibly cashed out. Some could challenge the stock price in court, contending that Musk should pay more, but that probably won’t hold up the sale, Elson said.

It’s likely that Musk would dissolve the current board and replace it with a new one that would agree with his management direction. And once Twitter is private, Musk will face fewer gripes from shareholders that often bring lawsuits, Elson said. Private companies also don’t face as much scrutiny from the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has been a finger in Musk’s eye for years, often because of statements he’s made on Twitter.

On Tuesday, shares of Twitter traded just under $50, below the $54.20 purchase price. Twitter will offer a glimpse into the health of its business when it reports its quarterly financial results Thursday.

Twitter’s constituents aren’t the only ones anxious about Musk’s $44 billion investment.

Shares of Musk’s electric car company, Tesla, have lost about 19% of their value since Musk announced his stake in Twitter, including about a 12% decline on Tuesday. Analysts say investors are fearful that Musk will be distracted by the social media company and less engaged in running Tesla.

“He’s going to be spending more time with another venture,” Edward Jones Senior Equity Analyst Jeff Windau said of Musk, who also runs SpaceX, The Boring Co., which digs tunnels, and Neuralink, a computer-brain interface company. “There’s a potential limit on the amount of bandwidth that you can apply to each of these companies.”

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Krisher reported from Detroit. O’Brien reported from Providence, Rhode Island. AP writers Barbara Ortutay in Oakland, California, Kelvin Chan in London and Sam Petrequin in Brussels contributed to this report.

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Red Deer Brewery to hold Beer Tasting on the Ross Street Patio

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Sawback Beer Tasting on the Ross Street Patio

The Ross Street Patio is celebrating its 10th summer and Sawback Brewing Co. is releasing a new Raspberry Ale named after the Downtown’s most loved feature – The Ross Street Patio!

On Friday, May 27th, the Downtown Business Association and Sawback Brewing will host a free tasting from 5-8PM, complete with live music from Paeton Cameron and James Adams and a light snack from Chubby’s Jerk BBQ & Kitchen! Visitors can then grab a seat on one of the adjacent restaurant patios for a full-sized Ross Street Patio Beer and enjoy the show. This event is free and open to the public.

Amanda Gould, Executive Director of the DBA says, “This is such an exciting time for the Ross Street Patio and Downtown.  We have so much planned over the summer and the next natural step is to license the entire patio through council deeming it an Entertainment District. We will find out in the beginning of June if council approve the bylaw and, straight after that, you can start enjoying full-sized beverages right on the patio while enjoying the summer entertainment!”

The Ross Street Patio is the hub of downtown entertainment, and the DBA is proud to be programming it for the summer season – summer activities include art installations, live music and family fun activities. “Follow us on Facebook to keep updated on what’s going on and when.  If you are a community group or an event organizer wishing to bring some activity to Ross Street Patio, please direct message or call the DBA to find out about the support, including financial support, that we can provide to help your event or activity come to life.”

The Downtown Business Association has been operating in Red Deer for over 30 years, serving approximately five-hundred business owners in the Downtown area. Through partnerships and leadership in advocacy and promotion, the DBA is the catalyst for a vibrant and prosperous downtown that is the place to live, work, play and do business.

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Downtown Red Deer: safe, fun and open for business!

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By Mark Weber

With summer just around the corner, downtown Red Deer is all the more bustling with fun events and even more local businesses to check out. But there are a few misconceptions about the area that persist, and that can even prevent some folks from visiting the city’s increasingly vibrant core. “Downtown Red Deer has an always lot of good things going for it,” explained Amanda Gould, executive director of the Downtown Business Association. “Sometimes, that is outweighed by the perception people have of downtown. “What we need to remember is all that has been happening downtown, what with the murals, the events, the alley upgrades – there are a lot of good things happening. And it’s making it such a great destination to come and visit and to also set up your business,” she added.

“We have seen, over the last year, an increase of 50 new businesses downtown. It’s great news, and the downtown is a great place to go.” As mentioned, however, certain misconceptions about the downtown area persist including that
there is a significant parking problem. “We absolutely do not have a parking issue,” noted Gould. Visitors may not always be able to park directly in front of their destinations, particularly if they are in a facility with lots of other businesses and agencies, but there are typically plenty of places to park nearby if you are prepared for a short jaunt. “If you were to travel just a half a block down the street, or even a block down, you will find there are usually plenty of spaces. We are lucky that our downtown is walkable as well.”

She also mentioned that some residents believe that downtown Red Deer is unsafe. “Again, this is a misperception – it’s not the reality of it,” she said. “We are so lucky as a neighbourhood downtown to have our own RCMP policing unit everyday – they chat with business owners and help them solve any safety issues they may come into contact with,” she said. “There is a team of seven on that unit, and surely that makes downtown one of the safest places to be.”

As to the surge in businesses, Gould noted that reasonable rents attract local entrepreneurs to launch ventures there as well – nicely adding to the growing variety of businesses in the area. It’s yet another plus for Red Deer residents.

In the meantime, one of downtown’s most prominent features – the Ross Street Patio – is really starting to liven up these days with the warmer weather and regularly scheduled musical performances. ‘Music on the Ross Street Patio’ is a free event and is open to all ages. Performances run from 4:30 –7:30 p.m. on show nights. Another annual favourite, the Downtown Market, kicks off on Wednesday, May 25. An accredited farmers’ market, visitors are invited to come down and purchase all their fresh fruits and veggies between 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. each Wednesday. Live music on the Ross Street Patio is also a key feature on Wednesdays.

Gould added that Friday, May 27, is the official kick-off to summer on the Ross Street Patio. To celebrate, they have partnered with Sawback Brewing to introduce a limited-edition Ross Street Patio beer which is super exciting, she explained. “Free samples will be available at 5 p.m. that day (May 27). There will also be music and other activities. The special beer, featured at several downtown restaurants, will be available through the summer.

Looking into June, performances on the Patio will run on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. “Businesses are now opening up their patios – and we’ve got the music happening on the Patio, so we are really starting to see a lot more people coming down, spending some time outside and enjoying the live music that we are putting on,” she said.

For more about the Downtown Business Association and all that is planned for the Ross Street Patio, find them on Facebook or visit www.downtownreddeer.com.

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