Image of Michael Gonzalez / Getty
At the end of this month, Elon Musk can finally own Twitter, after the shrewd billionaire changed his mind again this week about buying the social network for $44 billion.
On Thursday, a judge gave Musk and Twitter until October 28 to close their settlement, ending a months-long bitter legal battle and avoiding a high-profile trial. While it’s unlikely that Musk might not change his mind, if he took control of Twitter, what would that look like? He made suggestions but also left many questions unanswered.
When it comes to speech, anything
When Musk agreed to acquire Twitter in April, he said he would “unlock” the company’s potential by promoting free speech and “beating the spam program.”
“Freedom of speech is the foundation of a working democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where issues important to the future of humanity are debated,” he said in a statement. position transaction notification.
It’s a topic he has repeated both in public, telling Twitter employees at a all staff meeting that the platform must allow all legal and private speech, texting investor Antonio Gracias that “Freedom of speech is most important when it’s someone you hate speaking out what you think is childish.” Bulls ****.”
Musk has loudly criticized Twitter’s rules to curb harassment, hate speech, extremism and misinformation about elections and public health, arguing that the company’s efforts to promoting what have long been called “healthy conversations” is too restrictive.
Follow message appeared in court filings last week.
“Are you going to free Twitter from the censorship of the happy crowd?” podcast host Joe Rogan wrote to Musk the day Musk revealed his stake on Twitter. “I will give advice, which they can choose to follow or not,” Musk replied.
Social media experts warn that overhauling Twitter to allow all legal speech opens the door to contamination, ranging from misogynist abuse, racism and transgender people to false claims about the confidentiality of voting and the effectiveness of vaccines.
Angelo Carusone, president of the liberal nonprofit watchdog group Media Matters for America, for a “gap view of what Twitter under Musk would look like,” just consider alternative platforms like Parler, Gab and Truth Social promise fewer restrictions on speech, said Angelo Carusone, president of the liberal nonprofit monitoring group Media Matters for America.
On those sites, he says, “features are buggy – being able to say and do things that are forbidden on more mainstream social media platforms is actually why people are attracted to them.” And what we see there is that they are cauldrons of misinformation and abuse.”
Trump and other banned figures are likely to return
In addition to easing content moderation rules, a Musk-owned Twitter also potentially ushers in the return of former President Donald Trump. After January 6, 2021, uprising at the US Capitol, Twitter Permanently banned Trump for breaking the rules against inciting violence.
In the May, Musk said that the ban “is a morally bad decision, needs to be clear, and stupid to the extreme” and pledged to reverse the ban.
But it’s not just Trump – Musk has always questioned the notion that anyone should be permanently banned from Twitter, with a few exceptions.
“It would be great to have the bans lifted permanently, except for spam accounts and those that clearly advocate violence,” he texted Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal shortly after agreeing to join. the company’s board of directors (a decision he soon ignored).
That could mean lifting bans on conspiracy theorists Alex Joneswho is arrested for abuse in 2018; Answer. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., whose account was suspended in January for posting false and misleading claims about the COVID-19 vaccine; and 2020 election deniers like Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell, and Mike Lindell, all of whom are banned in early 2021.
One person who texted Musk in the days after his Twitter stake went public (name has since been redefine in court documents) advised the billionaire that “it would be a delicate game to play the game.” for the right wingers to get back to Twitter and how to navigate that (especially the boss. himself, if you like that)” – a clear allusion to Trump.
The person urged Musk to hire “someone with a cultural/political background” to lead the implementation, suggesting “a kind of Blake Masters.” Master is Republican Senate Candidate in Arizona, who has been endorsed by Trump and has repeated his false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.
Allowing Trump and others to return could set a precedent for other social networks, including Meta-owned Facebook, which is considering whether to reinstate the former president. are not. his ban expired in January 2023.
“If Trump were reformatted on Twitter, it would be easier for [Meta president of global affairs] Nick Clegg and [Meta CEO] Mark Zuckerberg said, ‘Well, he’s back on Twitter. Nicole Gill, chief executive officer of Accountable Tech, an advocacy group for progress, said.
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
Change management, employees leave
Musk is also expected to shake things up within Twitter. Agrawalwho succeeded Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey as CEO less than a year ago, is likely to come to an exit, potentially $42 million payment.
Musk’s texts reveal that the initially cautiously friendly relationship between the two when Musk first invested quickly soured after Agrawal told Musk that tweets critical of his platform “didn’t help me improve Twitter”.
“What did you do this week?” Musk scoffed, before telling Agrawal he wouldn’t be on the board and would instead make an offer to buy Twitter.
After a video meeting a few weeks later with Agrawal and Musk, Dorsey briefly summed up the situation in a text message to Musk: “At least it’s clear you can’t work together. That’s cleared up. “
It’s unclear who Musk might install into Twitter’s management ranks. His connections raised various ideas in text messages, including a former Uber executive who once suggested following critical journalists and investor Jason Calacanis, who volunteered to be CEO himself, but Musk didn’t accept any of the proposals.
This sparked speculation that Musk, who has run multiple companies, could take the reins on his own.
“Please send me anyone who actually writes good software,” Musk wrote to an investor. “I will oversee the software development.”
Whoever is in charge of day-to-day operations will likely face a smaller workforce. Hundreds of employees are said to have left in the months since the Musk saga began, with many in Twitter unhappy with Musk’s plans to overhaul the company.
That could be good news for the billionaire, who has complained that Twitter’s costs outstrip its revenue and imply that the company is overstaffed for its size.
An “everything” app?
Costs and staff cuts are just two parts of the equation. In the spring, Musk advertised to investors that he would quadruple Twitter’s annual revenue to $26.4 billion by 2028 and amass 931 million users that same year, up from 217 million by the end of 2021, according to an investor presentation. New York Times.
Today, Twitter makes almost all of its money from advertising, but Musk wants to move from that business model to making money from charging users for subscriptions, licensing data, and building a payments business. , according to the presentation.
He may have no choice but to look for alternative revenue streams other than advertising, given the weak state of the digital advertising market and the changes he wants to make to moderation. content.
“Advertisers want to know that their ads won’t appear with extremists, that they won’t subsidize or associate with things that might offend potential customers,” Carusone said.
This week, after Musk said he wanted to move on with the deal, he tweeted“Buy Twitter is an accelerator for making X, the app of everything.”
Exactly what he meant was, as always, anyone’s guess. But this summer, Musk tell Twitter staff that the company should emulate WeChat, China’s “super app” that combines social networking, messaging, payments, shopping, ride hailing – basically anything you can use your phone to do. do.
“You basically live on WeChat in China,” Musk said in June. “If we could recreate that with Twitter, we’d be hugely successful.”
Other American tech companies, including Facebook and Uber, have tried this strategy, but so far Chinese-style super apps have not caught up in the United States.
But Musk is optimistic. “Twitter can speed up X in 3 to 5 years,” he tweeted, “but I could be wrong.”
Editor’s Note: The parent meta of Facebook pays NPR to license NPR content.