On October 26th, Elon Musk entered the Twitter headquarters in San Francisco carrying a kitchen sink, announcing his takeover of the platform. At the same time, he fired Twitter’s CEO, CFO, and legal department head.
The takeover was under negotiations since April this year. In the meantime, the Tesla and SpaceX Chief had a lot of public disagreements with Twitter’s leadership and shareholders.
Every takeover brings in new faces to leadership positions. However, the way Twitter’s takeover is playing out is adversarial. After signing the takeover documents, Musk announced company-wide changes to structure and policy.
Here’s how the Tesla CEO wishes to run the platform:
- Musk plans to cut down the number of Twitter employees
- He’ll relax policies on shadow banning and citizen journalism
- Content moderation and TOS enforcement will continue
Contrary to what many believe, Musk will only remove some rules and regulations on the platform. Despite Elon Musk’s reported “free speech absolutism,” he also knows Twitter is a business. Advertisers will refrain from spending on an unregulated platform.
Legally Agreeable but Politically Hostile
In clear business terms, the USD44 billion Twitter takeover is, for the most part, agreeable. The former shareholders had little against the acquisition. Earlier this year, Twitter’s leadership at the time contemplated a lawsuit to force Musk to honor the terms of the deal.
However, the former Twitter CEO, Parag Agrawal, didn’t agree with his shareholders. The disagreement wasn’t based on the price at which Musk intended to buy Twitter or the business sense of making such a deal. Twitter has a political impact that the shareholders worried Musk might misuse.
Twitter and social science experts agree that Twitter’s social value is greater than its business value. And, Musk shares that sentiment. He announced that the platform’s goal will be the “betterment of humankind”.
In the past, observers have criticized Twitter for its political bias regarding moderation. Twitter has used its anti-misinformation rules to silence independent reporting.
While evidence of such outright malpractices is limited, Twitter admitted in 2021 that the platform has an algorithmic bias against right-wing politicians and news outlets.
Parag Agrawal, Ned Segal, and Vijaya Gadde Ousted
During the back and forth between Twitter leadership and the Tesla CEO, Musk accused the company of giving him misleading information. Musk accused Twitter of lying about the number of spam accounts on the platform.
That public falling out led to the hasty removal of Parag Agrawal, who had been serving as Twitter’s CEO since November 2021. He had replaced Twitter’s founder, Jack Dorsey.
Moreover, Musk also removed Ned Segal, who had been Twitter’s Chief Financial Officer since 2017, after he accused him of misreporting Twitter’s business potential.
Finally, Musk will likely remove the chief of policy and Twitter’s legal department head, Vijaya Gadde. Even if Musk doesn’t force Gadde out, she announced that she would be leaving the company if Musk took over.
Many view Gadde as responsible for restrictions on free speech. However, the evidence for these claims is limited.
Platitudes and Business Sense
Twitter’s takeover is more of a political than a business move. Thus, it’s hard to decide what lies ahead objectively.
Aloof billionaires own most social media platforms and tech companies. But, in most cases, the owners’ intentions about how they want to run the platforms aren’t clear.
Musk already faces accusations of using Twitter, and his 110.6 million followers on the platform, to manipulate Twitter stocks and the market in general. Though Musk’s USD221.2 billion net worth isn’t as influential, what he does and says has a bearing on the investors.
In June, a lawsuit accused Musk of manipulating the price of the cryptocurrency Dogecoin, abusing his Twitter influence and position as Tesla CEO. So far, the lawsuit hasn’t moved forward.
Overall, it’s safe to say that Musk will run Twitter like any other business venture. He will remove the politically-biased algorithms, but it will be a far cry from “free speech absolutism”.
Ultimately, advertisers want a space without obscenity and abuse to present their products to users.
Twitter’s stock has remained stable and on an upward trend over the last six months, compared to other tech companies.
Twitter’s Freedom of Speech
Freedom of speech is a controversial topic online. Legally, the company owning the platform has no say in what anyone posts on the platform. At least, that’s what people citing the First Amendment of the US constitution say about free speech on social media.
Additionally, Twitter is a global platform with almost 400 million users from virtually every country. This binds Twitter to the rules of conduct applicable in the EU and other major markets.
Overall, this means removing policies that seem to affect only one segment of the political divide and keeping policies that restrict hate speech, incitement to violence, and other hurtful messaging.