Why Bezos is worried that a Musk-owned Twitter will cave to China

It’s official. Elon Musk is buying Twitter (TWTR) for $44 billion and will take the firm private at the close of the deal pending regulatory approval.

And the move is raising a number of questions about Twitter’s future, including whether Musk will change its content moderation practices and reinstate banned users like former President Donald Trump (though Trump says he won't return to Twitter).

Fellow billionaire and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has questions of his own — specifically, whether Musk’s ownership of Tesla (TSLA) would give the Chinese government leverage over Twitter. Bezos raised the question, appropriately enough, in a tweet on Monday.

Interesting question. Did the Chinese government just gain a bit of leverage over the town square? https://t.co/jTiEnabP6T

— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) April 25, 2022

Musk and Bezos, two of the richest people on Earth, have a strained relationship. Both men operate their own private space companies and compete for the same contracts.

Bezos' question regarding China came in response to a tweet by New York Times reporter Mike Forsythe, who pointed out that China was Tesla’s second largest market in 2021 and that the electric car giant relies on Chinese battery makers.

China banned Twitter in 2009. But China is notoriously protective of its image abroad, pushing major companies that operate in the country to make changes to content that criticizes the Chinese government. Major tech companies like Apple (AAPL) must store Chinese users’ data inside the country and provide the government with access to it or else anger officials.

Companies ranging from Disney (DIS) to the NBA have censored themselves out of fear of offending Chinese officials and losing out on the lucrative market.

And while China has banned Twitter, the country still notices if the site hosts dissidents or users who raise concerns about the country’s human rights abuses including the use of concentration camps in Xinjiang.

If Musk depends on China to help bolster Tesla’s sales, Chinese officials could theoretically pressure him to censor anti-Chinese government content or risk losing the ability to operate openly in the country.

It’s a valid concern that’s certainly worth discussing, especially when you consider that Twitter is, according to Musk and co-founder Jack Dorsey, a public square.

But Bezos could also have his own ulterior motive for firing off his tweet. Bezos’ space company Blue Origin famously lost an initial bid to Musk’s SpaceX to build the lunar lander for NASA’s upcoming mission to land astronauts on the moon. Blue Origin sued to fight the decision, but ultimately failed.

But Congress has since requested a second bid for the lander, giving Bezos and Blue Origin another shot at helping to send Americans to the Moon. The billionaires have also sparred over which companies’ ships fly civilians higher into space and the appropriate line delineating space and Earth.

So while Bezos raises important questions about how Musk will be able separate Tesla and Twitter, it’s worth considering why he would bring up the topic in the first place.

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