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By the end of this month, Elon Musk could finally own Twitter, after the mercurial billionaire changed his mind again this week on buying the social network for $44 billion.
On Thursday, a judge gave Musk and Twitter until Oct. 28 to close their deal, end a months-long bitter legal battle and avoid a high-profile lawsuit. While there’s no certainty that Musk doesn’t have another change of heart, if he takes over Twitter, what would that look like? He gave clues but also left many questions unanswered.
When it comes to talking, anything goes
When Musk agreed to buy Twitter in April, he said he would “unlock” the company’s potential by advancing free speech and “defeating spambots.”
“Freedom of expression is the foundation of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital public square where issues vital to the future of humanity are debated,” he said in the official statement. transaction announcement.
It’s a theme he reiterated in public, telling Twitter employees during a all staff meeting that the platform should allow all legal speech, and privately text investor Antonio Gracias that “freedom of speech matters most when it’s someone you hate who is spouting what you think you’re bull****.”
Musk has strongly criticized Twitter’s rules aimed at combating harassment, hate speech, extremism and misinformation about elections and public health, arguing that the company’s efforts to promote what it has long called “healthy conversations” are too restrictive.
His contacts and supporters encouraged this view, according to text messages released in court last week.
“Are you going to free Twitter from the happy censorship mob?” podcast host Joe Rogan wrote to Musk the day Musk revealed his involvement in Twitter. “I will give advice, which they may or may not choose to follow,” Musk replied.
Experts who study social media warn that overhauling Twitter to allow all legal speech would open the floodgates to toxicity, from misogynistic, racist and transphobic abuse to false claims about voting safety and vaccine effectiveness.
For a “keyhole view of what Twitter will look like under Musk,” just look at alternative platforms such as Parler, Gab and Truth Social that promise fewer speech restrictions, said Angelo Carusone, the group’s president. liberal watchdog nonprofit Media Matters for America. .
On these sites, he said, “the functionality is the bug – where being able to say and do the kinds of things that are prohibited on more traditional social media platforms is actually why everyone world gravitates towards them. And what we see out there is that they are cauldrons of misinformation and abuse.”
Trump and other banned figures are likely to return
In addition to relaxing content moderation rules, a Musk-owned Twitter would also likely usher in the return of former President Donald Trump. After the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the United States Capitol, Twitter definitely banned Trump for breaking his rules against inciting violence.
In May, musk said that the ban “was a morally wrong decision, to be clear, and stupid in the extreme” and pledged to reverse the ban.
But it’s not just Trump — Musk has been skeptical that anyone should be permanently banned from Twitter, with a few exceptions.
“It would be great to lift the permanent bans, except for spammy accounts and those that explicitly advocate violence,” he texted Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal shortly after agreeing. to join the company’s board of directors (a decision he quickly reversed).
This could mean the lifting of bans on the conspiracy theorist Alex Joneswas expelled for abusive behavior in 2018; representing Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., whose account was suspended in January for tweeting misleading and false claims about COVID-19 vaccines; and 2020 election deniers like Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell and Mike Lindell, all of whom were banned in early 2021.
A person who texted Musk in the days after his participation was posted on Twitter (whose name was redacted in the court documents) informed the billionaire that “it will be a tricky game to let the wingers of right back to Twitter and how to navigate it (especially the boss himself, if you’re up for it)” – an apparent reference to Trump.
The person urged Musk to hire “someone with a savvy cultural/political outlook” to run the app, suggesting “a type of Blake Masters.” The masters are the Republican candidate for the Senate in Arizona that was endorsed by Trump and echoed 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 plans to reinstate the former president when its own. the ban on him expires in January 2023.
“If Trump is reformed on Twitter, it makes it easier to [Meta president of global affairs] Nick Clegg and [Meta CEO] Mark Zuckerberg to say, “Well, he’s already back on Twitter.” We might as well let it come back to Facebook,” said Nicole Gill, executive director of Accountable Tech, a progressive advocacy group.
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Management reshuffle, staff departures
Musk should also shake things up internally at Twitter. Agrawalwho took over from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey as CEO less than a year ago, will likely be heading for the exit, potentially with a $42 million payout.
Musk’s texts reveal that an initially cautious friendship between the two men when Musk first invested quickly deteriorated after Agrawal told Musk that his tweets criticizing the platform were “not helping me not to improve Twitter”.
“What have you been doing this week?” Musk snapped, before telling Agrawal he wouldn’t join the board and would make an offer to buy Twitter instead.
After a video meeting a few weeks later with Agrawal and Musk, Dorsey summed up the situation in a text to Musk: “At least it became clear that you can’t work together. That was clarifying.”
It’s unclear who Musk might install in Twitter’s executive ranks. His contacts floated various ideas in text messages, including a former Uber executive who once suggested spying on critical journalists, and investor Jason Calacanis, who volunteered for the CEO job, but Musk didn’t bite on any of the suggestions.
This has fueled speculation that Musk, who already runs several companies, could take the reins himself.
“Please send me someone who writes great software,” Musk wrote to an investor. “I will oversee the development of the software.”
Whoever is in charge of day-to-day operations will likely face a reduced workforce. Hundreds of employees are said to have left in the months since the start of the Musk saga, many inside Twitter discouraged by Musk’s plans to overhaul the company.
That’s probably good news for the billionaire, who has complained that Twitter’s costs are outstripping revenue and hinted that the company is overstaffed for its size.
An “everything” app?
Costs and staff reductions are only two parts of the equation. In the spring, Musk told investors he would quintuple Twitter’s annual revenue to $26.4 billion by 2028 and attract 931 million users by the same year, up from 217 million at the end of 2021, according to a report. presentation to investors obtained by The New York Times.
Today, Twitter makes almost all of its money from advertising, but Musk wants to move away from that business model to make money by charging users subscription fees, assigning license data, and creating a payment company, according to the presentation.
He may have no choice but to find sources of income other than advertising, given the weakness of the digital advertising market and the changes he wants to make to content moderation.
“Advertisers want to know that their ads won’t appear alongside extremists, that they won’t subsidize or partner with the kinds of things that would put off potential customers,” Carusone said.
This week, after Musk said he finally wanted to close the deal, he tweeted“The purchase of Twitter is an accelerator to create X, the universal application.”
Exactly what he meant is, as always, anyone’s guess. But this summer, Musk told Twitter staff that the company should emulate WeChat, the Chinese “super-app” that combines social media, messaging, payments, shopping, carpooling – basically anything you could do with your phone.
“You basically live on WeChat in China,” Musk said in June. “If we can recreate that with Twitter, we’ll be a big hit.”
Other American tech companies, including Facebook and Uber, have tried this strategy, but so far Chinese-style super apps have not caught on in the United States.
But Musk is optimistic. “Twitter probably speeds up X by 3-5 years,” he tweeted, “but I could be wrong.”
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