Musk controls Twitter but where will he go from here?
Elon Musk took control of Twitter after a long legal battle and months of uncertainty. The question now is what Tesla’s billionaire CEO will actually do with the social media platform.
The New York Stock Exchange began the process of delisting Twitter on Friday. This means ordinary investors will no longer be able to buy and sell shares of the company, and Twitter will no longer be required to publicly reveal details of its quarterly or annual financial performance to US regulators.
Musk ousted three senior Twitter executives on Thursday, according to two people familiar with the deal. Such a shakeup was widely expected, but Musk has otherwise made conflicting statements about his vision for the company — and shared few concrete plans for how he will run it.
This left Twitter users, advertisers and employees analyzing his every move in an effort to guess where he might lead the company. Many are looking to see if he will welcome back a number of influential conservative figures banned for breaking Twitter’s rules – speculation that is only intensifying with upcoming elections in Brazil, the United States and elsewhere.
“I’ll dig deeper today,” he tweeted early Friday, in response to a conservative political podcaster who complained that the platform favors liberals and secretly degrades conservative voices. Former President Donald Trump is among those banned. Just like his ally Roger Stone, who wrote on Telegram that he was “patiently waiting to find my voice”.
The mercurial Musk didn’t make it easy to anticipate his moves.
Musk criticized Twitter’s reliance on advertisers, but issued a statement Thursday that appeared aimed at allaying their fears. He complained about speech restrictions on the platform – but then vowed he wouldn’t let it become a ‘hellscape’. And for months it wasn’t even clear if he wanted to control the company.
After Musk signed a deal to acquire Twitter in April, he tried to walk away from it, leading to the company suing him to force him to complete the acquisition. A Delaware judge had ordered the deal, originally valued at $44 billion, to be finalized by Friday.
Late Thursday, Musk tweeted, “the bird is released,” a reference to the Twitter logo.
Earlier in the week, he walked around the company’s San Francisco headquarters with a porcelain sink, changed his Twitter profile to “Chief Twit” and tweeted “Walking into Twitter headquarters – let it flow!”
People familiar with the deal said Musk fired CEO Parag Agrawal, chief financial officer Ned Segal and chief legal counsel Vijaya Gadde. Both people insisted on anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the deal. Segal confirmed his departure in a series of tweets on Friday.
Musk clashed privately with Agrawal in April, just before deciding to bid on the company, according to text messages later revealed in court documents.
Around the same time, he publicly criticized Gadde, the company’s top lawyer, in a series of tweets. A wave of harassment of Gadde from other Twitter accounts followed, including racist and misogynistic attacks, in addition to calls for Musk to get rid of her. After his dismissal, the harassment on the platform began again.
In his first big move earlier Thursday, Musk said he was buying the platform to help humanity and didn’t want it to become a “free-for-all hellscape.”
The post appeared to be aimed at addressing concerns from advertisers – Twitter’s main source of income – that Musk’s plans to promote free speech by reducing content moderation will open the floodgates to more online toxicity and drive away the users.
“The reason I acquired Twitter is because it is important for the future of civilization to have a common digital public square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy way, without resorting to violence,” Musk wrote in unusual length. message for the Tesla CEO, who typically projects his thoughts in one-line tweets.
He continued, “There is a great danger right now that social media will split into far-right and far-left echo chambers that are generating more hate and dividing our society.”
Musk has previously expressed his disgust with advertising and Twitter’s reliance on it, suggesting a greater focus on other business models such as paid subscriptions that won’t allow big companies to dictate policy on how it works. social media. But on Thursday, he assured advertisers that he wanted Twitter to be “the most respected advertising platform in the world.”
The memo is a shift from Musk’s position that Twitter unfairly infringes the right to free speech by blocking misinformation or graphic content, said Pinar Yildirim, associate professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University. University of Pennsylvania.
But it’s also a realization that the lack of content moderation is bad for business, putting Twitter at risk of losing advertisers and followers, she said.
“You don’t want a place where consumers are just bombarded with things they don’t want to hear about, and the platform takes no responsibility,” Yildirim said.
As concerns grow over the direction of Twitter’s content moderation, European Union Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton tweeted to Musk on Friday that “in Europe the bird will fly by our rules.” .
Breton and Musk met in May and appeared together in a video in which Musk said he agreed with the 27-nation bloc’s tough new online regulations. Its Digital Services Act threatens big tech companies with billions in fines if they don’t more strictly monitor their platforms for illegal or harmful content such as hate speech and misinformation.
Musk is expected to speak directly to Twitter employees on Friday, according to an internal memo quoted in multiple outlets. There is internal confusion and low morale linked to fears of layoffs or a dismantling of the company’s culture and operations.
The Washington Post reported last week that Musk told potential investors that he plans to cut three-quarters of Twitter’s 7,500 employees when he takes ownership of the company. The newspaper cited documents and unnamed sources close to the deliberation.
Musk has spent months deriding Twitter’s “spam bots” and making sometimes contradictory statements about Twitter’s problems and how to fix them.
Thursday’s memo to advertisers shows a new focus on ad revenue, in particular the need for Twitter to deliver more “relevant ads” – which generally means targeted ads that rely on collecting and analyzing people’s personal information. users.
Yildirim said that unlike Facebook, Twitter hasn’t been good at targeting advertising to what users want to see. Musk’s post suggests he wants to address this issue, she said.
This story has been updated to correct the language of Musk’s tweet to “the bird is released”, not “the bird has been released”.
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By BARBARA ORTUTAY, TOM KRISHER and MATT O’BRIEN
AP Business Writers