“The bird is freed,” one of the multiple phrases originated from Elon Musk’s barrage of tweets after his historical purchase of the social media giant Twitter. The implications of this event have already become a turning point in the social media landscape. However, before discussing how the new ownership has affected the platform and the possible moves ahead, we must rewind and see how Musk initiated his “chaotic saga”with Twitter. Last April, Musk offered to acquire Twitter for $44bn. He based his offer on the company’s market valuation at that time, around $54.20 per share. To back up the initiative, he also presented a financing package where he would fund the request with his resources and external contributors. Unfortunately, despite Twitter’s board’s initial interest in accepting the offering, their negotiations didn’t go as smoothly as they were expected.
In the following months, Musk and the board went on a back-and-forth bargaining to ultimate the purchase. The first bid was considered “too high” by Elon a month after, when he reported that Twitter had 20% of its user base as fake or spam accounts. Nevertheless, the platform’s board pressured to maintain the initial offer by filling a lawsuit against him to seek to hold to the initial deal. That let Musk with no other alternative but to give in and close it. That’s how on October 26, Musk became the CEO of Twitter. He made it public that same day when he posted his “great entrance” at the company’s headquarters in San Francisco. Musk walked into the building holding a sink to joke around with the phrase: “let that sink in.”But humor aside, the new position already means a transition for the platform; what is unclear is if it will be for better or worse for the service delivered to the user’s base.
There are reasons to be wary about Twitter’s changes since Musk innovative practices are known for following his own rules. He has already made the first decision as CEO, which has fed up the debate. Just a few days ago, Musk used for the first time his position to fire almost half of the employees at Twitter’s headquarters and dissolve the previous board. The company has justified its actions by highlighting the losses it is going through. Still, that is just the beginning. Since becoming the “Chief Twit,” he has also suspended accounts of public personalities, like comedian Kathy Griffin, and users calling him out for his management. Ironically, Musk defends the new transition of the platform by “giving power to the people” and allowing free speech on social media.
Twitter’s content moderation team already has existing measures to avoid disinformation, fake news, and polarization yet they are far too restrictive for Musk, who also planned to change that through a modification in the policies of the “blue check”. Twitter’s verification symbol acts a status symbol but also ensures that the company has previously verified that a person behind an account is who they say they are. It works as a credibility tool. Currently, the number of verified accounts is around the 400.000 mark, but Musk plans to increase it. He intends to incorporate a subscription program (8$ per month) for users to gain or maintain the “blue check” in their accounts. Since the company is undergoing significant losses, this would ensure a new revenue stream. Yet is this beneficial for the integrity of the platform?
After two days with a trial version of that “subscription program”, the platform has had to take a step back on its decisions. After it became available, an eruption of impostor’s accounts invaded Twitter. Thus, the company had to press “pause” in the mid of a disinformation flood to “help address impersonation issues.” Still, if the subscription fails, Musk will have to start looking for other revenue streams before Twitter has aggravated losses.
What is certain is that the management of Twitter is in the hands of Musk, and important decisions in the company will be dependent entirely on a sole owner. He will determine the rules at one of the most popular networks in communication. In comparison, publicly traded companies must have a governance structure representing the opinion of numerous shareholders and independent directors, which tends to dilute the corporation’s control over more individuals and can act as a “safety tool” for a massive company like Twitter. Right now, few elements can keep Musk on a short leash and can function as a means of protecting the platform’s integrity and content. Thus, we should take a moment to reflect on the following: Musk wanted to buy Twitter in April; ten months after he became CEO. Now, what is next? Whatever he wants, whatever he gets? There is no board that he must report back to that can impede him from managing the corporation as he fancies. Or an administrative plan that he must follow. Musk is merging his persona with Twitter’s culture, which risks the positioning of the company as an impartial tool of communication.
In conclusion, what is to expect from the new social media network: the power to the people and freedom of speech? Musk expects “that Twitter will do a lot of dumb things in the coming months,” but he will keep “what works” and change what doesn’t. Hopefully, he is thinking about “what works” in a common interest. What do you think? Is Twitter ever go back to what it used to be?
It would be interesting to know your opinion on this matter; please feel free to comment!