What does Musk have in mind for Twitter? Great app? Haven of freedom of expression? Who knows?
After months of wrangling over the fate of their explosive $44 billion deal, the billionaire and the Bird app are essentially back to square one — albeit a bit worse for the wear and tear, as trust and goodwill seemed to be eroding on both sides.
Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX and Twitter’s most prominent user since former President Donald Trump was kicked out, shared some concrete details about his plans for the social media platform. Although he has touted free speech and mocked spambots since agreeing to buy the company in April, what he actually wants to do about either is shrouded in mystery. .
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It could have one of the most powerful communication platforms in the world with 237 million daily users within weeks, although the deal is not final. The lack of clear plans for the platform is causing concern among Twitter’s constituencies, ranging from users in conflict regions where it offers an information lifeline to the company’s own employees.
“Users and advertisers are – understandably – worried about whether this move will fundamentally change the culture of the platform,” said Brooke Erin Duffy, a Cornell University professor who studies social media. “And so, Musk will have to decide whether he wants to allay their concerns by keeping core functionality (the content moderation system, for example) and keeping the company public – or whether he will undertake a full-scale overhaul. “
To confuse matters further, Musk tweeted on Tuesday that “buying Twitter is accelerator to build X, app everything,” without further explanation.
Although Musk’s tweets and statements were cryptic, tech analysts speculated that Musk wanted to recreate a version of China’s WeChat app capable of video chatting, messaging, streaming, scanning barcodes and make payments.
He gave a bit more detail at Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting in August, telling the crowd at a factory near Austin, Texas that he uses Twitter frequently and is familiar with the product. “I think I have a good idea of where to lead the engineering team with Twitter to radically improve it,” he said.
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Managing payments for goods could be a key part of the app. Musk said he had a “bigger picture” of what X.com, an online bank he started early in his career and which eventually became part of PayPal, could have been.
“Obviously it could be started from scratch, but I think Twitter would help speed that up by three to five years,” Musk said at the August meeting. “So it’s kind of something that I thought was very useful for a long time. I know what to do.”
For now, Twitter has immediate and pressing issues that Musk will have to deal with if he takes ownership of the company. Its social media rivals are grappling with falling stock prices and some, like Snap, have even announced layoffs. Government regulations and attracting young users away from TikTok are also challenges. And Musk’s vision of a free-speech haven worries social media and content moderation experts, as well as digital and human rights advocates.
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“When it all started in the spring, we had indicators and a clear idea of what Musk could do with the platform,” said Angelo Carusone of Media Matters, a watchdog group that opposes the takeover. “Thanks to the trial, we know who he spoke to, what he said and the kinds of far-right ideological decision-makers he wants to put in place. To put it bluntly, the worst fears have been confirmed.
Twitter employees, under former CEO Jack Dorsey and his predecessors, have spent years taming the platform once called the “free speech wing of the free speech party.” “, where hate and harassment abound in something where all are welcome and safe. While it’s far from perfect, critics fear Musk’s ownership could mean a rollback on years of that work.
“Musk has made it clear that he will roll back Twitter’s Community Standards and Safety Guidelines, reinstate Donald Trump and dozens of other accounts suspended for violence and abuse, and open the floodgates for misinformation,” Carusone said.
The company, for example, was one of the first to adopt the “report abuse” button in 2013, after British MP Stella Creasy received a barrage of rape and death threats on the platform, echoing to the experiences of other women over the years.
Over the next few years, Twitter continued to develop rules and invest in people and technology to detect violent threats, harassment, and misinformation that violate its policies. After evidence emerged that Russia used its platforms to try to interfere with the 2016 US presidential election, social media companies also stepped up their efforts against political disinformation.
The big question now is how much Musk, who describes himself as a “free speech absolutist,” wants to roll back those systems — and whether users and advertisers will stick around if he does.
Aiming to allay those concerns, Musk said in May that he wanted Twitter to be “as broadly inclusive as possible” where, ideally, most of America is on it and talking — away from the far-right playground. against which its detractors warn.
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And while Musk has hinted he would consider reinstating Trump’s account, it’s unclear whether the former president, who has since launched his own social media platform, will return.
Then there’s the matter of Twitter employees, who live with uncertainty, high (and low) profile departures, and a potential owner who publicly ridiculed them on their own platform. Musk also took aim at Twitter’s work-from-home policy, having once called for the company’s headquarters to be turned into a “homeless shelter” because, he said, so few employees actually worked there.
As a very frequent Twitter user with over 100 million followers, Musk knows how to use the platform. At a staff meeting Musk attended in June, he said his goal was to make it “so compelling you can’t live without it.” If he can pull this off, it could finally put Twitter in the big leagues of social media, along with TikTok and Meta’s Facebook and Instagram, where users number in the billions, not just the millions.
Of course, Musk is also well known for his delayed or potentially unrealistic predictions, such as the colonization of Mars or the deployment of a fleet of autonomous robotaxis.
“It’s not a car company where, well enough, all you have to do is beat General Motors. Sorry, it’s not really that hard,” said David Kirsch, professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland, which studied the effect of Twitter bots on Tesla’s share price.”You’re dealing here with all these other companies (who) also have very sophisticated AI programs, very sophisticated PhD programmers…everyone is trying to crack this nut.”