Coming up with $44 billion to buy Twitter was the easy part for Elon Musk.
Next comes the real challenge for the world’s richest man: fulfilling his promise to make Twitter “better than ever,” as a lightly regulated haven for free speech.
His vision to improve the 16-year-old company relies heavily on a pledge to deliver “as free as possible” speech on the platform — a commitment celebrated both on the political right and among followers of former President Donald Trump, whose accounts last year was permanently banned. For others who worry that Musk will completely rein in agitators spreading hate, lies and other harmful content, making the platform too toxic for advertisers and average users, Musk has offered some reassurance.
“The overwhelming antibody response from those who fear free speech says it all,” he tweeted Tuesday
Many of Musk’s proposed changes reflect his own experience as a high-profile and outspoken Twitter user with more than 85 million followers and strange impersonation accounts using his name and photo to promote cryptocurrency schemes. There is a herd. The statement announcing their acquisition of Twitter on Monday highlighted the need to defeat “spam bots” that mimic real users.
But what about Twitter’s more than 200 million other users who aren’t getting banned or are full of spam? There is still a lot of uncertainty about whether their ideas are technically viable and whether these changes will benefit most regular users, or serve some other purpose.
“They have made it clear that they are not interested in making Twitter a profitable venture,” said Joan Donovan, who studies misinformation at Harvard University. “It’s about the power and influence of Twitter itself and its importance in our culture.”
Content Moderation Experts And researching Twitter over the years has cast doubts that Musk knows exactly what he’s doing. And there are some problems they have identified that are not felt by most of the users.
“Spam bots are highly visible and somewhat personal to him,” Donovan said. “Most people don’t see many of these spammy accounts.”
And for those unhappy with the company’s crackdown on hate, harassment and misinformation, there are plenty of new examples of “free speech”—social media platforms that have been launched over the years as Twitter antidote, largely by conservatives. Many have struggled to deal with the toxic material, and at least one has been hacked in protest by its own technology providers.
“This move just shows how effective[moderation features]are at harassing those in power,” said Kirsten Martin, professor of technology ethics at the University of Notre Dame. “I would be concerned about how this would change the values of Twitter.”
Third Bridge analyst Scott Kessler said the fact that no other bidders had appeared publicly before Musk’s deal was a sign that other acquirers may find it difficult to reform Twitter.
“This platform is very similar to what we’ve done over the past decade,” Kessler said. “You have a lot of smart people trying to figure out what they should be doing, and they’ve got trouble. Making that much progress is probably going to be hard.”
Musk received an impressive, if highly succinct, endorsement from Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey, who praised Musk’s decision to take down Twitter. back from wall street “and tweeted that he trusts Musk’s mission” expand the light of consciousness “— a reference to Dorsey’s belief that “Twitter is the closest thing we have to a cosmic consciousness.”
But others familiar with Twitter say they are disappointed by Musk’s successful bid for the company.
“Twitter will essentially let a man-child take over its platform,” said Leslie Miley, a former Twitter employee who has also worked for Google and Apple. Miley, who was the only black engineer at Twitter in a leadership position after leaving the company in 2015, expressed doubts about Musk’s understanding of the complexities of the platform.
“I’m not sure Elon knows what he’s getting at,” Miley said. “He may just find that having Twitter is very different from wanting Twitter.”
Musk’s more pragmatic approach to content moderation has many users concerned that the platform will reactivate accounts that promote dangerous conspiracies and harassment.
If that goes too far, Wall Street analysts said it could also alienate advertisers — Twitter’s main revenue source. And it could make it harder to retain the San Francisco-based company’s more than 7,500 employees, some of whom are already expressing concerns about the potential for a backslide on materials standards.
In Europe, officials reminded Musk about a new law, the Digital Services ActWhich will force tech companies to increase the policing of their online platforms.
“Whether it’s cars or social media, any company operating in Europe must abide by our rules – regardless of their shareholding,” tweeted Thierry Breton, the EU commissioner in charge of the bloc’s internal market. “Mr. Musk knows this very well. He is familiar with European regulations on automotive, and will quickly adapt to the Digital Services Act.
The acquisition of Musk is not yet complete and is still awaiting approval from the majority of Twitter shareholders. Twitter had previously scheduled its annual shareholders meeting for May 25, but a regulatory filing on Tuesday said the company would convene a special meeting “as soon as practicable.”
According to Charles Elson, director of the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware, there are likely to be some roadblocks along the way, but there don’t appear to be enough serious obstacles to stall the deal.
Twitter or Musk could walk away from the deal if it’s not completed by October 24, but if Musk or Twitter is held responsible for the deal not going forward, they will have to pay a $1 billion termination fee, according to the details. The transaction contained in a regulatory filing published Tuesday. The filing also revealed that Twitter would drop a “poison pill” measure it had previously adopted to defend against Musk’s acquisition by making it prohibitively expensive.
Usually when companies go private, disgruntled shareholders are forcibly redeemed. Some may challenge the stock’s price in court, arguing that Musk should pay more, but that probably won’t stop the sale, Elson said.
It is likely that Musk will dissolve the current board and replace it with a new one that agrees with the direction of his management. And once Twitter goes private, Musk will face less grip from shareholders who often bring lawsuits, Elson said. Private companies also do not face as much scrutiny from the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has been a finger in Musk’s eye for years, often because of the statements he made on Twitter.
On Tuesday, Twitter shares traded below $50, down from a buy price of $54.20. Twitter will offer a glimpse of the health of its business when it reports its quarterly financial results on Thursday.
Twitter constituents aren’t the only ones worried about Musk’s $44 billion investment.
Shares of Musk’s electric car company Tesla have lost about 19% of their value since Musk announced his stake in Twitter, which included a nearly 12% drop on Tuesday. Analysts say investors fear Musk will distract from the social media company and be less engaged in running Tesla.
“He’s going to spend more time with another venture,” said Jeff Windau, senior equity analyst at Edward Jones, of Musk, who also runs SpaceX, The Boring Company, which digs tunnels, and Neuralink, a computer company -Brain Interface Company. “There’s a potential limit to the amount of bandwidth you can apply to each of these companies.”
Krischer reported from Detroit. O’Brien reported from Providence, Rhode Island. Associated Press writers Barbara Ortute in Oakland, Calif., Calvin Chan in London and Sam Petrequin in Brussels contributed to this report.