Mercurial mega-billionaire Elon Musk finally closed his $44 billion takeover of Twitter Oct. 27, following a messy six months of wrangling. Musk did so begrudgingly, only after he was backed into a legal corner, complaining that he was “obviously overpaying” for the social network.
But he hit the ground running, firing top execs and promising a content moderation council even as he tweeted a conspiracy theory to his more than 112 million followers. Here are six questions brewing about Twitter under Musk.
Will Musk turn Twitter into a swamp of right-wing misinformation and hate speech?
That’s a loaded question. Musk has accused Twitter of displaying a “left-wing bias” and has alleged it censors conservatives. Clearly, he wants to err on the side of allowing versus restricting speech on the platform. But Musk would be foolish to make moves that would destroy the value of the (overpriced) thing he just bought, by scaring off advertisers and users and thus crimping Twitter’s primary revenue stream. Musk also must ensure the Twitter app complies with Apple’s and Google’s app store requirements for content moderation — otherwise they could reject it, as they have done with Twitter copycats Truth Social (launched by Donald Trump) and Parler (now owned by Kanye West). Musk also is on the hook to pay back $13 billion in debt financing, which he’d rather not do from his own pockets.
Musk, cognizant of Madison Avenue’s skittishness, promised in an open letter that Twitter won’t become “a free-for-all hellscape.” That didn’t stop ad giant IPG from advising clients to freeze their ad spending on Twitter for the next week. He followed that up by claiming the company will form a content-moderation council with “widely diverse viewpoints” — and that “no major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before that council convenes.” (Late Tuesday, Musk tweeted that Twitter will not allow anyone who was de-platformed for violating Twitter rules back on “until we have a clear process for doing so, which will take at least a few more weeks.”)
With Musk’s “free speech” chest-thumping, racist trolls have already tested Twitter’s policies. After the deal closed, instances of the N-word on Twitter increased by almost 500% in a 12-hour period over the previous average, according to the Network Contagion Research Institute, which tracks “cyber-social threats.” Twitter blamed the surge on a coordinated “trolling campaign.”
Hasn’t Musk himself made questionable posts on Twitter?
Yes. He disparaged Twitter or its execs at least 16 times during his monthslong fight with the company over the deal, conduct Twitter said violated the two parties’ agreement. Musk claimed he wanted to exit the pact because, among other things, Twitter allegedly undercounted spam and fake accounts. Twitter lawyers claimed Musk had buyer’s remorse because of a drop in Tesla’s stock price.
On Oct. 30, Musk appeared to violate Twitter’s misinformation policies by posting a link to a baseless homophobic conspiracy theory about the brutal attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of Rep. Nancy Pelosi. After a backlash, including Jimmy Kimmel calling Musk “a fully-formed piece of shit,” his tweet was deleted.
Have users been leaving Twitter?
Some high-profile users have bailed. Celebrities who said they had quit the service include TV hitmaker Shonda Rhimes; actors Téa Leoni and Alex Winter of the “Bill & Ted’s” movies; and singers Sara Bareilles and Toni Braxton. “Not hanging around for whatever Elon has planned. Bye,” Rhimes wrote Oct. 29 in what appeared to be her final tweet.
Will Musk make layoffs?
Yes, he already has. As soon as the pact was final, Musk fired CEO Parag Agrawal, chief financial officer Ned Segal and other senior execs (which wasn’t a surprise). Meanwhile, Twitter’s board of directors was disbanded and Musk named himself CEO. At Musk’s behest, the company was reportedly planning to make broader layoffs across departments — also not a shocker, given he said at a June employee Q&A that there needs to be a “rationalization of headcount.” The initial cutbacks will target a 25% reduction, the Washington Post reported Oct. 31. But Musk has denied to employees that he intends to gut Twitter, after he reportedly told investors that he expected to slash nearly 75% of its headcount.
What other changes is Musk mulling?
Musk on Nov. 1 announced that the price of a Twitter Blue subscription will increase from $4.99 to $8 per month — and will be the only way to achieve verification on the platform, along with the addition of other new perks. “Twitter’s current lords & peasants system for who has or doesn’t have a blue checkmark is bullshit,” he tweeted. “Power to the people!” Musk apparently had a change of heart after a broad backlash over a previous report that he would charge $20 for verification. That included a vigorous objection from Stephen King, who said Monday he would quit Twitter over the plan; for many users, Musk’s move to charge anything for the privilege is a nonstarter.
Musk also posted a poll on Oct. 30 asking Twitter users whether the company should bring back Vine, the short-form video app Twitter shut down in 2017. He’s assigned a team of Twitter engineers to work on rebooting Vine, which could be ready before the end of the year, per an Axios report. In any case, Musk has indicated his belief that Twitter needs to adopt a TikTok-like video feature to make the service more engaging.
Will Donald Trump return to Twitter?
Unclear, but not likely anytime soon. “If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if Trump is coming back on this platform, Twitter would be minting money!” Musk tweeted Oct. 31. The ex-president was permanently banned from Twitter (and other mainstream platforms) in early 2021 for supporting the Jan. 6 rioters who attacked the U.S. Capitol. Musk has said he’d overturn such lifetime bans. Trump previously claimed he’d stick exclusively to his own “free speech” social app, Truth Social. But the much bigger scale of Twitter might be too much for the spotlight-craving Trump to resist.