The completion of the transaction lifts a cloud of uncertainty that had hung over Twitter’s business, employees, and shareholders for much of the year. Musk spent months attempting to back out of the deal after initially agreeing to buy the company in April, citing concerns about the number of bots on the platform and later allegations raised by a company whistleblower.
Musk and Twitter avoided a trial that was scheduled earlier this month by completing the agreement. But Musk’s takeover, as well as the immediate firings of some of the company’s top executives, has raised a slew of new questions about the social media platform’s future and the many aspects of society it affects. According to the two sources, Musk also fired CFO Ned Segal and policy head Vijaya Gadde on Thursday.
Musk has stated that he plans to rethink Twitter’s content moderation policies in order to promote a more maximalist opinion of “free speech.” The billionaire has also stated his opposition to Twitter’s practice of permanently banning users who repeatedly violate its rules, raising the possibility that a number of previously banned, controversial users will reappear on the platform.
Many will be watching to see how soon Musk will allow former President Donald Trump to return to the platform, as he has previously stated. Depending on the timing, such a move could have significant implications for the upcoming US midterm elections as well as the Presidential campaign in 2024.
By taking these steps, Musk has the possibility to revamp the media and political ecosystems, reshape public discourse online, and disrupt the nascent sphere of conservative-leaning social media properties, which arose in response to complaints about bans and restrictions on Twitter and other mainstream services.
Musk paid a visit to Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco earlier this week to meet with employees. He also wrote an open letter to Twitter advertisers in which he stated that he does not want the platform to become a “free-for-all hellscape where anything can be said with no consequences.”
Musk’s influence is also expected to grow as a result of the acquisition. The billionaire already owns, manages, or has significant stakes in companies developing automobiles (Tesla), rockets (SpaceX), robots (Tesla’s Optimus), and satellite internet (SpaceX’s Starlink), as well as more experimental ventures such as brain implants (Neuralink & OpenAI).
Now he is in charge of a social media platform that influences how hundreds of millions of people communicate and get news.
What’s next for Twitter
With the deal drama out of the way, all eyes are on Musk’s plans for Twitter.
In addition to the removal of Twitter’s CEO and other executives, Musk’s takeover may result in the return of some influence over the company by founder Jack Dorsey, who stepped down as CEO in November and left its board in May. While Dorsey has stated that he will not return to Twitter formally, he has privately discussed the takeover with Musk and provided advice.
Musk has also reportedly told prospective investors in the deal that he intends to lay off nearly 75% of the company’s employees, which could disrupt every aspect of how Twitter operates. In personal text messages with friends about the deal, which were revealed in court filings, he discussed dramatically reducing Twitter’s workforce, and he didn’t dismiss the possibility of layoffs in a call with Twitter employees in June.
Twitter may not have used many of its current employees under Musk. Musk has repeatedly stated that he intends to rebuild Twitter’s content moderation policies and strengthen what he refers to as “free speech,” potentially undoing the company’s years of efforts to address misinformation and harassment and to foster “healthier” conversations on the platform.
A similar move could have repercussions across the social media landscape. Twitter, despite being smaller than many of its social media competitors, has served as a model for how the industry handles problematic content, such as when it was the first to ban then-President Trump after the January 6 Capitol riot.
In addition, several alternative social networks have emerged in recent years, primarily targeting conservatives who claim that more mainstream services unduly restrict their speech. Among these services are Trump’s Truth Social and Parler, which Kanye West recently announced his intention to acquire.
While it’s unclear how far Musk can go in fulfilling his free speech fantasies, any relaxation of existing content moderation policies could effectively make Twitter, which has a much larger audience, a more appealing service for some of the users who have fled to those smaller, fringe services.
Aside from content moderation, Musk has proposed a variety of other platform changes, including enabling end-to-end encryption for Twitter’s direct messaging feature and recently suggesting that Twitter become part of an “everything” app called X, possibly in the style of the popular Chinese app WeChat.
Amidst his months-long attempt to back out of the deal and his own recent comments that he is “obviously overpaying” for Twitter, Musk has tried to sound optimistic about the company’s prospects.
“The long-term potential for Twitter, in my view, is an order of magnitude greater than its current value,” he said on Tesla’s earnings conference call last week.