December 5, 2022
World

How Twitter Could Change Under Elon Musk

how-twitter-could-change-under-elon-musk

Twitter could be about to get some major updates.

With Elon Musk in position to take over the social media platform after a surprise U-turn, a number of technical and operational changes could soon be coming. “I have a ton of ideas,” Musk texted Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal in April, right before he agreed to join the company’s board. “I just want Twitter to be maximum amazing.”

Musk this week revived his offer to buy the company, and hopes to avoid a legal showdown with the company over the deal he had previously been trying to back out of. The Tesla CEO has publicly hinted at several ways he might transform the platform if the deal goes through, from loosening content moderation to restoring banned accounts and adding an edit feature. And a juicy set of text messages between Musk and his business associates, made public in a court filing last week, provide an even closer look into how he might monetize and overhaul the platform.

There are some hurdles to overcome before the deal can proceed. Twitter still has to accept Musk’s $44 billion takeover offer, and the parties are reportedly stuck on financing terms. After Musk requested that the litigation be dropped and Twitter objected, a Delaware Chancery judge ruled on Thursday that if the deal isn’t done by 5 p.m. on Oct. 28, she would set new trial dates in November. But if the deal does go through, analysts warn that Musk’s focus on unmoderated free speech could present new challenges, which could have huge implications for the digital town square just weeks before the U.S. midterm elections.

“No one’s prepared for the kind of onslaught that’s going to come,” says Angelo Carusone, president and CEO of Media Matters, a non-profit media watchdog. “We know the people he’s been talking to and we see all the indicators—this is a real threat.”

Here’s how Twitter could change under Musk.

Current leadership could be fired The first move Musk makes is widely anticipated to be cleaning house, starting with Twitter’s chief executive, Agrawal, who took the helm at the company last year after co-founder Jack Dorsey stepped down. Text messages between Musk and his business associates reveal how frustrated he was with Agrawal’s leadership, even though the two had initially sought to work together.

Agrawal told Musk on April 9 that his habit of tweeting negative things like “Is Twitter dying?” was “not helping me make Twitter better.”

Read More: The Big Takeaways From Elon Musk’s Twitter Texts

“What did you get done this week?” Musk, who at the time was in discussions about joining Twitter’s board, replied. “This is a waste of time,” he added, saying instead he would make an offer to buy the company.

The complicated relationship between the two could result in Agrawal being fired on Musk’s first day of ownership, Carusone says, and likely replaced with one of Musk’s allies. “Fixing Twitter by chatting with Parag won’t work,” Musk texted Twitter board chair Bret Taylor.

Musk has also expressed displeasure with other Twitter executives, tweeting a meme about the company’s top lawyer Vijaya Gadde that cast her as an icon of “Twitter’s left wing bias.”

Donald Trump and other suspended accounts could be allowed back Musk has said for months that his top priority would be to preserve free speech on Twitter and restore access to former President Donald Trump, who was permanently suspended last year after the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

“I think Musk will restore his account immediately,” Carusone says, “the second that he gets the keys.” But it’s unclear if Trump will ultimately come back to Twitter if he’s invited since he launched his own social media platform, TRUTH Social, earlier this year.

Other suspended users could also be replatformed, analysts say, including right-wing voices that were barred for spreading conspiracy theories or hateful rhetoric. Musk previously told Agrawal via text message that he wanted to reverse all permanent Twitter bans “except for spam accounts and those that explicitly advocate violence.”

That means Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose personal Twitter account was suspended this year for repeatedly sharing misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, could be allowed back. It also means The Babylon Bee, a conservative satire site that lost Twitter access after it published a transphobic humor piece, could return.

“Are you going to liberate Twitter from the censorship happy mob?” Joe Rogan, the controversial podcast host, texted Musk the day his investment in Twitter became public, but before he made an offer to buy the company. Musk responded: “I will provide advice, which they may or may not choose to follow.” (Musk’s latest offer would take the company private).

Fewer guardrails against misinformation and extremism Along with reversing the bans on several accounts, Musk could also undo some of Twitter’s policies designed to make the platform safer for vulnerable users—typically women, LGBTQ individuals and people of color—such as its ban on misgendering transgender people.

He has previously said that the platform would have more lenient content moderation policies under his leadership. “If in doubt, let the speech exist,” Musk said in an on-stage interview in April. “If it’s a gray area, I would say, let the tweet exist. But obviously in the case where there’s perhaps a lot of controversy, you would not necessarily want to promote that tweet.”

Still, Twitter’s algorithm has in the past been found to amplify extreme political rhetoric or conspiracy theories in harmful ways by suggesting new accounts and content that users might be interested in. Those concerns could become even more prominent if there are fewer guardrails against misinformation and extremism.

“It’s going to dramatically scale the number of extremists that are on the platform,” Carusone says. “Not just by restoring accounts, but also by signaling to a whole bunch of other users that don’t currently use the platform that it’s open season.”

In one of the texts released last week and sent in April, Musk wrote to Michael Kives, head of an investment firm: “Twitter is obviously not going to be turned into some right wing nuthouse. Aiming to be as broadly inclusive as possible.”

A new edit button could be added Musk has expressed interest in allowing users to edit their tweets, something many users had been requesting for years. Roughly 74% of his Twitter followers said they supported adding the edit feature, according to a poll he ran in March.

Among the cache of text messages released was one from Gayle King, co-host of CBS This Morning, who told Musk she supported the idea of an edit button.

Twitter began testing the edit button last month after originally pushing back on the notion, giving Twitter Blue members who pay for its subscription model in Canada, Australia and New Zealand early access.

Twitter said that the feature would come to U.S. subscribers soon, but Musk may expedite the process once in charge.

Currently, users with early access to the function can only edit their tweets up to five times—a way to prevent people from changing the original content of their tweets too often. But there are still concerns that the edit feature could be used with malicious intent to spread misinformation or harmful messages if users were to replace their popular tweets to messages with sinister sentiments.

Musk could try to remove spam bots and revamp Twitter Blue Perhaps unsurprisingly, Musk is expected to take action on spam bots—or fake accounts—on the platform, which he cited as his main reason for backing out of the original deal. It’s unclear what he might have planned, but the idea of a blockchain-based future for Twitter, in which users have to pay a small fee to send messages, initially seemed appealing to Musk since bots wouldn’t be able to get past the paywall. He later said this idea wouldn’t work because “the bandwidth and latency requirements cannot be supported by a peer to peer network.”

If he did push through a plan to get rid of most bot accounts on Twitter, Musk himself would lose an estimated 13.5 million followers, according to a data analysis by Scottish digital skills academy CodeClan.

Musk has also been very critical of Twitter Blue, the company’s subscription service that offers exclusive features like bookmark folders and ad-free articles for $4.99 a month. Jason Calacanis, an entrepreneur and one of Musk’s strategic advisors on Twitter, texted him that Twitter Blue is “an insane piece of sh-t” and “these dipsh-ts spent a year on Twitter Blue to give people exactly…Nothing they want!”

He could create a new ‘everything app’ called ‘X’ Musk said this week that he wants to create a new app called “X” after buying Twitter, which could be an all-in-one super app modeled after China’s WeChat—often described as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Paypal rolled into one central portal.

“Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app,” he tweeted Tuesday, later adding that the acquisition could accelerate the app’s creation by 3 to 5 years.

It’s unclear what Musk is planning, but he has long expressed his desire for Twitter to emulate the success of WeChat by branching out to offer other features beyond tweets.

Read More: A Complete Timeline of Elon Musk’s Business Endeavors

“I think an important goal for Twitter would be to try to include as much of the country, as much of the world, as possible,” the billionaire businessman said at a town hall with Twitter employees in June. “You basically live on WeChat in China because it’s so usable and helpful to daily life, and I think if we can achieve that, or even get close to that at Twitter, it would be an immense success.”

Musk already has some experience with payments platforms, which could help with creating a super app with that function. He co-founded PayPal—which he had previously called X.com—one of the early online payment platforms that has grown to become globally popular.

Employees might leave Musk’s very public criticism of Twitter and its leaders, combined with his backing out of the deal, has created a significant erosion of trust, says Robert McCann, an adjunct professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. “At Twitter, it’s hit employee morale significantly, spooked advertisers and I think the deeper issue is that it has created a sense of confusion,” he told TIME in July. Some employees may choose to leave once Musk takes over, and some have already headed for the exit, according to an Insider report. Morale at the company was low after Musk renewed his offer to buy the company earlier this week, according to a report from Platformer.

Read More: Whether or Not He Buys Twitter, Elon Musk Has Thrown the Company Into Turmoil

With Musk promising to oversee a number of technical and operational changes at Twitter, questions about his onerous schedule and leadership style could also impact what he’s able to accomplish. Running just one company is enough to overwhelm even the most skilled Fortune 500 CEOs, but Musk already oversees the day-to-day management of at least four organizations—Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink and The Boring Company.

“There’s a reason that in a universe of incredibly talented, highly ambitious individuals who are CEOs of companies, hardly any of them try to lead more than one at a time,” Eric Pliner, CEO of management consulting firm YSC Consulting and author of Difficult Decisions, told TIME in July. “Leadership of any enterprise requires focus. It requires clarity of purpose, and it requires the ability to lead other people. For one person to attempt to spread his attention across so many different enterprises is challenging at best and impossible in some circumstances.”

Write to Nik Popli at

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