After spending months trying to get out of a deal to buy Twitter, Elon Musk officially owns the influential platform. Now the question is: what will he actually do with it?
Musk’s intervention — which ended Thursday night, a source familiar with the matter told CNN — has the potential to create turmoil not only for Twitter’s ( TWTR ) employees, but also for the hundreds of millions of people around the world who use the platform every day. It could also affect the US midterm elections if Musk follows through on his pledge to restore the accounts of users previously banned from the platform, notably former US President Donald Trump, and limit restrictions on the company’s content.
In the first weeks after agreeing to buy the company in April, and before the initial move to secure the deal, Musk repeatedly stressed his goal was to strengthen “freedom of expression” on the platform and work to “unlock” Twitter’s “extraordinary potential.” “. The Tesla CEO hinted that he would be rethinking Twitter’s approach to content moderation and permanent bans, with implications for civil discourse and the political landscape. He also talked about his desire to rid the platform of bots, although he later reached out to the number of bots in his argument for canceling the deal.
On Tesla’s ( TSLA ) earnings call last week, Musk acknowledged that while the $44 trillion deal was an “overpayment” for the social media company, “I think Twitter’s long-term potential is vastly greater than its current value.” He added that he believes Twitter has “languished for a long time” but has tremendous potential.
Musk’s plans to increase Twitter’s value may involve reducing its workforce, something he has previously hinted at. Previous reports suggested it planned to cut 75% of its workforce, although this week it told Twitter employees that this is not the case. In any case, anxieties are rising. Musk fired CEO Parag Agrawal, director Ned Segal and policy chief Vijaya Gadde.
In private and public statements over the past six months, Musk has tossed around a number of other possible changes to the platform, from banning end-to-end encryption for Twitter’s direct messaging feature to suggesting it become part of Twitter this week. everything” app called X, probably in the style of the popular Chinese app WeChat.
There have also been more distant suggestions. In a text exchange with his brother Kimbal Musk, revealed in court documents last week, the two discussed the possibility of asking users to pay for each tweet they post with small amounts of DogeCoin cryptocurrency.
Now that Musk has completed the deal, some of these theoretical changes may soon become reality. Here’s what users need to know:
For years under former CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey, Twitter emphasized its work to foster “healthy conversations.” The company banned many accounts that promoted abuse and spam, added labels to false or misleading information, and banned the misuse of transgender people.
Under Musk’s ownership, Twitter has been able to divert them to make the platform more friendly to its most vulnerable users, typically women, members of the LGBTQ community and people of color, according to security experts.
Musk has said that Twitter, under his leadership, will have more relaxed content moderation policies. “When in doubt, let the speech exist,” Musk said in an onstage interview in April. “If it’s a gray area, I’d say, let the tweet exist. But obviously, maybe in the case where there’s a lot of controversy, you don’t necessarily want to promote that tweet.”
Musk sought to reassure advertisers on Thursday that he has no plans to turn the platform into a “free-for-all hellscape” despite his pledge to reduce content moderation. The remarks follow questions about whether advertisers could leave the platform for fear of ending up with potentially objectionable content on their paid posts.
“In addition to complying with the laws of the land, our platform must be warm and welcoming to all, where you can choose the experience you want based on your preferences,” he said in an open letter posted on Twitter. Allowing all legal speech may not be so straightforward; content rules change around the world and, in Europe, the new Digital Services Act sets high moderation standards.
Musk also said he wants to open source Twitter’s algorithm and make it more transparent to users, such as when they’ve highlighted a tweet or downvoted their feed. (Twitter executives have previously expressed support for moving in this direction, and the company often makes it clear when certain tweets or types of content are being taken down.)
But the most striking initial change might come from who is and isn’t allowed on a Musk-owned Twitter.
Musk said Twitter should be more “willing to delete things” and “very cautious with permanent bans.” This could mean, among other things, a long list of controversial far-right figures and conspiracy theorists, soon to return to the platform.
Musk, for his part, has focused on bringing back one of Twitter’s most prominent former users: Trump.
“I think it was wrong to ban Donald Trump, I think it was a mistake,” Musk said in May. “I would reverse the perma ban. … But my view, and Jack Dorsey, I want to be clear, shares this view, that we should not have a permanent ban.”
Dorsey tweeted following Musk’s remarks in May that he “agrees” there is no permanent ban for Twitter users. “There are exceptions … but in general, permanent bans are our failure and they don’t work,” he said.
Trump has said he does not want to join Twitter and will remain on his social media platform, Truth Social.
But if Trump were to accept Musk’s offer to return to Twitter, he could regain the significant following he has lacked since he was banned from the platform in January 2021, as the 2024 US presidential race heats up. On Truth Social, Trump has only 4 million followers; On Twitter, he reached an audience of over 88 million followers.
Another notable change is just who can make those sensitive decisions.
Musk has a mixed reputation in the tech industry. He is undoubtedly one of the most ambitious and successful innovators and entrepreneurs of this era. But he has also courted controversy, often from his Twitter profile, where he has more than 100 million followers.
Over the years, Musk has used Twitter to make misleading claims about the Covid-19 pandemic, from the baseless allegation that a man who helped rescue children from a cave in Thailand was a sexual predator, to mocking people who reveal their gender pronouns. to the platform, and to make countless jokes with the numbers 420 and 69. He also tweeted a (deleted) photo comparing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Adolf Hitler and compared Agrawal to Joseph Stalin, which has since been deleted.
Musk previously tried to take down a Twitter account dedicated to tracking the movements of his private jet, offering to pay the college freshman running the account (the account’s owner declined).
On the same day he tweeted his letter trying to revive the deal, Musk was widely criticized on the platform for his comments about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He proposed that Crimea, a region Russia invaded and annexed from Ukraine in 2014, be “formally part of Russia”. Most followers answered “no” to his poll and Andrij Melnyk, Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, tweeted: “F…off is my very diplomatic answer.” In a follow-up tweet, a visibly frustrated Musk blamed his poll results on a “bot attack.”
Until now, Twitter has been, at least in part, accountable for its policy decisions to advertisers, shareholders and its board. But those guardrails won’t necessarily exist under Musk’s leadership.