After Elon Musk launched an audacious bid to take over Twitter this year, and then subsequently embroiled himself in a months-long legal battle to renege on the deal, some wondered whether the billionaire SpaceX owner was ever actually going to buy the social media platform.
But sure enough, in archetypal Muskian fashion, the self-proclaimed “edgelord” strolled through the front gates of the website’s headquarters last Thursday clutching a basin, the video of which the billionaire posted alongside the ominous caption: “let that sink in”.
Over the past 72 hours, both rumor and revelation about Musk's plans for the platform have hit the headlines – so here’s everything you need to know about the businessman's first weekend at the wheel.
Top Executives Fired: Are More Staff on The Chopping Block?
It was no secret that Elon Musk and Twitter’s (now former) board of executives did not see eye to eye – and no surprise that one of his first actions was to fire some of the most senior figures at the company.
Key decision makers including Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal, and Vijaya Gadde, Twitter's head of legal policy, trust, and safety, were all relieved of their duties in quick succession.
Musk has denied rumors that he plans to axe up to 75% of Twitter staff in the coming months, telling employees at the end of last week that there would be no enforced exodus.
Content Moderation Council: A Ploy to Assuage Fears?
Musk has committed to creating a “content moderation council” to manage sensitive and inappropriate content on the platform, and decide what constitutes account suspensions and other user-directed actions.
In his first statement on the council, Musk confirmed the group would have “widely diverse viewpoints”, and also clarified that “no major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before that council convenes.”
However, Musk also recently stated that “anyone suspended for minor & dubious reasons will be freed from Twitter jail”, so it’s hard to tell exactly how this will play out and which presently-barred public figures will be allowed back into the arena.
Indeed, whether this is a good-faith initiative intended to positively impact the platform remains to be seen – it could easily be a ploy to assuage fears surrounding Musk’s previously stated opinions on platform moderation and free speech “absolutism”, positions critics believe may normalize the existence of more hate speech on the platform.
Trump: Will the Demagogue Return?
One of the biggest rumors swirling around the takeover has been the prospect of Donald Trump, the bile-spewing former President currently on Twitter’s blacklist, returning to the platform.
Trump’s account was suspended amid the aftermath of the January 6th attack on the Capitol. The former president had previously used the platform to galvanize support for his political campaigns in a formidable, offensive fashion.
Trump himself said that he was glad a “sane” head like Elon Musk was now at the helm of the social media site, although the pair have also clashed on issues before too, most notably whether Trump is too old to be president.
It’s entirely possible that Musk’s content moderation council will decide to maintain the ban on Trump’s account – but there’s also every chance this could change.
Paid Twitter: Monthly Fee for Verified Accounts?
Another story that’s gained traction over the weekend is that Musk plans to charge the owners of verified Twitter accounts around $20 a month to use the platform and retain their blue tick.
The blue tick, which is used to illustrate that an account is an official, legitimate account belonging to a public figure or trusted source, would need to be bought through the company’s Twitter Blue Subscription service.
Jason Calacanis, a Musk associate who’s helping the Tesla owner with his takeover, ran a poll on Twitter on Monday morning asking users how much they would be willing to pay a month for a blue tick ($5, $10, $15, or “wouldn’t pay”), suggesting that paid-for verification is very much on the table.
Staged Rows: Will Musk Monetize Division?
One of the most concerning pieces of news to circulate in the past three days is that Musk is considering splitting Twitter into “strands”, with users expected to pick a “version” of Twitter and give their posts “content ratings”.
Other ideas reportedly under consideration include a video-game style, player-versus-player “mode” of Twitter where verified accounts could stage beef and spats.
Never before has Twitter – or any other social media site – flirted seriously with the idea of actually facilitating (and arguably encouraging) conversational jousting of this kind.
Activists and campaigners have already pointed out that such changes could completely reverse the strides in content moderation Twitter’s pre-Musk model had made before the tech mogul’s takeover.
Elon Musk and Twitter: A Match Made in Hell
Although Elon Musk’s meme-filled entrance to Twitter’s headquarters was reminiscent of the kind of self-adulating stunt you’d usually associate with someone running a victory lap, it’s hard to see how anyone has won out of this deal.
Everything about Elon Musk’s behavior on the platform prior to his takeover smacks of a nonchalant, blase attitude to the coarsening of political discourse.
Coupled with his apparent intention to commodify spats and arguments, the future for Twitter – a social media platform only really valuable due to its contribution to our political economy, rather than any impressive technical stack – looks bleak.
Twitter has only been profitable for two years of its existence, which further suggests Musk’s motives center around power, influence, and ultimately, himself, rather than revenue or (god forbid) keeping the platform’s users safe and happy.
Arguably, forking out $44 billion for a social media site amid one of the biggest recorded downturns for tech company share prices isn’t an intelligent decision.
But handing over the keys to the world’s biggest digital public square to someone that has done very little to illustrate that they plan to influence the intricate nuances of contemporary political discourse in good faith – or treat societal divisions with sufficient sincerity – is likely to be an order of magnitude more disastrous.