How China could force Elon Musk to censor Twitter

Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter could spell disaster for the social media platform because there’s a danger China may leverage Tesla’s footprint there to force him to censor content online, according to an expert.

Scott Sheridan, the CEO of online brokerage platform Tastyworks, told The Post that Musk’s $44 billion acquisition of Twitter doesn’t bode well for the social media company as well as his other prized businesses — Tesla and SpaceX.

“I have a difficult time believing Elon’s purchase of Twitter can possibly end well,” Sheridan told The Post.

Musk, the world’s richest person whose personal wealth — valued by Forbes at $241 billion — is derived mainly from his stake in Tesla, has deep business ties to China.

Tesla’s largest factory is in Shanghai, China’s financial hub. It is the only China-based factory that is fully owned and operated by a non-Chinese entity.

In order for US-based companies to do business in China, the government in Beijing normally requires that they form “joint ventures” with domestic firms. Tesla was exempt from this stipulation.

Tesla’s access to the lucrative electric vehicle market in China could be used as leverage by the government in Beijing, experts warn.

Tesla’s access to China — the world’s largest electric vehicle market — has paid enormous dividends. Last year, Tesla sold $13.8 billion worth of electric cars to Chinese consumers — which accounts for a quarter of the company’s worldwide revenue.

In 2021, Tesla sold more than 470,000 electric cars that were manufactured in its Shanghai gigafactory. That’s more than half the number of vehicles that Tesla has sold worldwide.

Tesla’s growing reliance on China could give the Communist Party-run government leverage over Musk once he acquires Twitter.

Musk has vowed to take Twitter private and liberalize its content moderation policies in order to allow for more free speech.

But Sheridan predicted that China may squeeze Musk in an effort to force him to tailor Twitter’s censorship policies so that they are aligned with Beijing’s political interests.

“China embraces free speech about as well as [Chicago] Bears fans embrace [Green Bay Packers quarterback] Aaron Rogers at their dinner table,” Sheridan said.

He predicted to The Post that if Musk plays ball with China, that could endanger SpaceX’s contracts with NASA.

Tesla's massive gigafactory in the financial hub of Shanghai.
China is home to Tesla’s massive gigafactory in the financial hub of Shanghai.

“If Elon’s history on Twitter isn’t cause for concern and you believe he will in fact take this seriously, you still can’t get around the potential conflicts he’ll encounter with respect to China and even the US government,” he said.

“You don’t have to try too hard to envision a scenario where China exerts pressure on Elon to censor criticism,” Sheridan continued.

“And any potential special treatment with respect to China could potentially cost SpaceX existing and/or future US government contracts.”

After Musk’s $44 billion bid for Twitter was approved by the company’s board of directors last month, billionaire rival Jeff Bezos wondered whether the deal would end up empowering China.

Elon Musk
Analysts warn that China could force Musk to censor Twitter if he is intent on maintaining Tesla’s footprint there.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

“Interesting question. Did the Chinese government just gain a bit of leverage over the town square?” Bezos asked.

He shared a New York Times reporter’s tweet that noted how China was the second-biggest market for Tesla, Musk’s pioneering electric car company that also opened its first overseas factory in Shanghai. 

Twitter is blocked in China, giving it no leverage over the site — which the Bezos-shared conspiracy suggested could change under Musk.

Soon after getting thousands of reshares for his tweet, Bezos followed up by admitting he did not really believe it.