Elon Musk owns Twitter. Now what?


Elon Musk holding a microphone and laughing.
After months of backwards and forwards, Elon Musk now formally owns Twitter. | Carina Johansen/NTB/AFP through Getty Photographs

Musk has tweeted lots of concepts about how he plans to alter Twitter. Listed below are among the most important ones.

After greater than six months of some of the chaotic, high-profile enterprise negotiations in latest reminiscence, it’s lastly actual: Elon Musk, the richest individual on this planet, is accountable for Twitter.

Musk has reportedly fired CEO Parag Agrawal and two different high executives, CFO Ned Segal and head of authorized coverage, belief, and security Vijaya Gadde, in line with stories from CNBC the Washington Publish, and the New York Instances. The Washington Publish and Wall Avenue Journal have reported that the deal closed Thursday evening, though there isn’t any official affirmation from Twitter or Musk at time of publication.

The reported acquisition means Musk, troll commander in chief, will keep away from a prolonged authorized battle that will power him to testify in courtroom and reveal extra doubtlessly embarrassing personal texts together with his mates in regards to the deal as a part of the authorized discovery course of.

And Twitter received’t have to attend in limbo any longer as an orphaned tech firm pleading for somebody to take possession. It additionally received’t must cope with Musk’s public shitposting directed on the firm’s management. (Musk tweeting a poop emoji at Agrawal could go down as some of the juvenile govt insults of all time.) Within the days main as much as the deal closing, Musk modified his tone to be a extra pleasant troll — on Wednesday, he visited Twitter HQ and made the rounds with workers, together with a stunt wherein he tweeted a video of himself carrying a sink into the workplace, captioned “Coming into Twitter HQ — let that sink in!” and adjusted his Twitter bio to learn “Chief Twit.”

However in the event you assume the Musk-Twitter saga is over, you’re sorely mistaken. The actual drama is but to come back.

Till comparatively not too long ago, Musk’s major enterprise pursuits have been in constructing electrical vehicles, rockets, and underground tunnels. Now, he should determine a brand new, very totally different enterprise problem: learn how to successfully run a social media platform that’s utilized by almost 400 million individuals — together with extremely influential world leaders, journalists, and different public figures — and cope with the political speech moderation points that include that. Musk additionally wants to determine a greater enterprise mannequin for the corporate. Twitter has by no means made almost as a lot cash as its social media opponents like Fb and YouTube, and together with different main tech corporations, it has additionally seen a significant decline in its inventory worth previously yr. In accordance with a latest report in Reuters, the service’s most energetic and profitable customers have been leaving in droves because the pandemic.

Up to now, Musk has thrown out lots of concepts, usually within the type of tweets, about how he plans to show Twitter round. Listed below are among the most important ones.

Make Twitter a “free speech” platform. No matter which means.

Musk’s most constant messaging about why he desires to purchase Twitter is that he desires it to be an open digital city sq. of concepts, with out intervention. He has stated that he’ll enable anybody to say something they need on the platform, so long as it’s authorized.

“I believe it’s important to have free speech and to have the ability to talk freely,” stated Musk at a Twitter worker assembly in June that Vox obtained a recording of.

But it surely’s not clear precisely how Musk plans to execute on his free speech promise, or what he even means by it.

The latest proliferation of “free speech”-themed platforms like Parler, Fact Social, and Gettr have proven that in the event you let anybody say no matter they need on a social media app, there’s a very good probability that app may develop into a hate-filled, poisonous place — which is why even these comparatively extra lax platforms have some primary content material moderation insurance policies.

There’s lots of completely authorized stuff you may say that’s disagreeable to take a look at: racial slurs, graphic violent content material, bullying, spam (extra on that later). That sort of content material is mostly dangerous for enterprise as a result of most customers — and advertisers — don’t need to be round it.

Musk is aware of this. Which is why he has stated, paradoxically, that he’ll use algorithms to advertise and downrank content material, arguing for “freedom of speech” however not “freedom of attain.”

“I believe individuals needs to be allowed to say fairly outrageous issues which might be throughout the bounds of the legislation, however then that doesn’t get amplified, it doesn’t get, you recognize, a ton of attain,” stated Musk on the June Twitter workers assembly.

However Musk didn’t clarify how he’ll determine what sort of content material will get attain and what received’t, and the way it is going to be any totally different from what Twitter presently does. Twitter has lengthy struggled with dangerous content material (as has each different main social media platform) — together with an advertiser boycott in 2020 — and lately has expanded its insurance policies in opposition to hate speech, harassment, and violent content material.

On Thursday, Musk appeared to attempt to deal with issues about his hands-off strategy to content material moderation by tweeting a public memo to advertisers. He wrote that Twitter “can not turned a free-for-all hellscape, the place something might be stated with no penalties!” and added that he desires Twitter to be a spot “the place you may select your required expertise in line with your preferences, simply as you may select, for instance, to see films or play video video games starting from all ages to mature.”

It’s unclear, although, how this choose-your-own-adventure technique works with Musk’s overarching imaginative and prescient for a “frequent digital city sq.,” the place individuals are debating a variety of beliefs all in the identical place. The stability between permitting free speech and making a social media platform a welcoming place is a troublesome one, and Musk has lots of particulars right here he might want to determine.

Carry again Trump

Musk has stated he would reinstate former President Donald Trump’s Twitter account, which was banned for his tweets in regards to the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

“I believe that was a mistake as a result of it alienated a big a part of the nation and didn’t in the end lead to Donald Trump not having a voice,” Musk instructed the Monetary Instances in Might. “Banning Trump from Twitter didn’t finish Trump’s voice. It is going to amplify it among the many proper, and that’s the reason it’s morally mistaken and flat-out silly.”

Musk’s feedback about bringing again Trump, paired together with his free speech mantra, has made him in style with conservatives who’ve lengthy felt censored by Twitter and different social media corporations, even if there hasn’t been tangible proof of systematic anti-conservative bias and conservative influencers proceed to have large followings on platforms like Twitter.

Whereas many conservatives would cheer Trump’s return to Twitter, it might concurrently immediate main resistance from individuals, a lot of them liberal, who argue that his tweets pose a menace to a peaceable democracy. We’ll see how Elon is ready to deal with that blowback if he does reinstate the previous president.

Eliminate bots

Musk has promised to repair Twitter’s “bots” subject — that means the prevalence of accounts that publish spam or inauthentic content material like crypto get-rich-quick-schemes and phishing scams.

Bots are a significant recognized subject on Twitter, though the corporate has maintained that they signify lower than 5 p.c of all accounts. Musk has stated he thinks that quantity is way increased, round 20 p.c or extra, and used that as his authorized foundation for initially backing out of the deal.

Outdoors analysis has proven that whereas the prevalence of bots on Twitter would possibly truly be below 5 p.c, the attain of those bots in conversations total might be outsized, as excessive as 20 p.c.

Not like reinstating Trump, eliminating bots might be additionally certainly one of Elon’s least controversial plans as a result of it’s arduous to seek out individuals who love bots (or a minimum of the malicious/spammy ones).

“I imply, frankly a high precedence I’d have is eliminating the spam and rip-off bots and the bot armies which might be on Twitter,” Musk stated at a TED convention in April. “I believe these affect … they make the product a lot worse. If I had a dogecoin for each crypto rip-off I noticed, I’d have 100 billion dogecoin.”

Sarcastically, though Musk stated one of many causes he was shopping for Twitter was to do away with bots, he made the existence of bots the premise for his case to attempt to get out of the Twitter deal, arguing that the corporate didn’t disclose the total extent of the problem.

Prefer it or not, bots at the moment are squarely Elon’s drawback to unravel.

Make Twitter a “superapp” known as X

Musk had stated that he desires to meet Twitter’s potential by making it far more than a social media app: turning it right into a “superapp.” The unique superapp is China’s WeChat, which individuals use to do every little thing from paying their payments to ordering takeout to messaging their mates.

“You principally reside on WeChat in China as a result of it’s so helpful and so useful to your every day life. And I believe if we may obtain that, and even near that with Twitter, it might be an immense success,” stated Musk talking at an all-staff Q&A with Twitter workers in June that Recode obtained a recording of.

That is by far certainly one of Musk’s most formidable plans and the closest factor he has to an actual enterprise technique. At present, 90 p.c of Twitter’s income is made by means of promoting. Musk stated he would need to make Twitter much less advertising-dependent and earn more money by subscriptions (which Twitter already does), and doubtlessly, being profitable by means of these superapp transactions.

Musk can have competitors: Snap’s Evan Spiegel and Uber have additionally been pursuing the superapp thought.

It may be quite a bit tougher to construct a real superapp within the US than in China, the place there isn’t as a lot antitrust scrutiny stopping main communication platforms from establishing cross-industry monopolies.

If Musk is to realize any of those objectives, he’ll want good individuals at Twitter to assist him. With an already demoralized workers and his reported plan to chop 75 p.c of the worker base, that’s going to be troublesome.

In discussions with a number of present and former Twitter workers, workers described a local weather of chaos and uncertainty. Some workers circulated a petition on Tuesday protesting Musk’s plans to chop 75 p.c of Twitter’s workforce, and “to not be handled as mere pawns in a recreation performed by billionaires.”

One present worker, who requested to not be named for concern of repercussions for talking with the press, stated that everybody they know on the firm is both “leaving or planning to depart.”

Many sources Recode spoke to discovered it implausible that Musk may successfully hold Twitter operating with the sorts of drastic workers reductions he’s reportedly deliberate.

“It’s not solely operations that will probably be hit. It takes many individuals and shifting elements to satisfy primary regulatory and authorized compliance in varied elements of the world. How does [Musk] plan to proceed to try this?” stated Sarah T. Roberts, a former researcher at Twitter who left the corporate not too long ago and is now a professor of data research at UCLA.

One Twitter engineer, Manu Cornet, has been posting cartoons on his weblog that replicate the present temper at Twitter.

In a single sketch, Cornet drew passengers sitting on a Twitter-branded airplane, crouched and bracing for influence.

If there’s one factor we all know by now in following the Elon-Twitter deal, it’s that what Musk says he’ll do might be very totally different from what he truly finally ends up doing. However within the subsequent few months, Twitter workers and Twitter customers needs to be ready for turbulent instances.

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