Elon Musk rules freedom of speech versus ‘hell image’ on Twitter

Oct 28 (Reuters) – Just hours after Elon Musk ushered in a new era at Twitter Inc, the billionaire owner was inundated with pleas and demands from banned account holders and world leaders.

The flood of requests underscores the challenge facing the CEO of electric car maker Tesla Inc ( TSLA.O ), balancing a pledge to restore free speech while preventing the platform from descending into a “hellscape,”[ads1]; as he had vowed in an open letter to advertisers on Thursday.

Former US President Donald Trump, who was permanently banned from Twitter over allegations of inciting violence following the capital riots on January 6, 2021, welcomed the takeover but said little about a return to Twitter. “I’m very glad that Twitter is now in sane hands, and will no longer be run by Radical Left lunatics and lunatics who really hate our country.” read more

Dmitry Medvedev, former President of Russia and current Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Security Council, tweeted his congratulations: “Good luck to @elonmusk in overcoming political bias and ideological dictatorship on Twitter. And quit Starlink in the Ukraine business.”

Others called for Musk to reverse penalties imposed by the social media platform. In response to @catturd2, an anonymous account with 852,000 followers known to be a big supporter of Trump’s election fraud claims, who said it was “shadow banning,” Musk tweeted “I’ll dig more today.”

The editor-in-chief of the Russian state-controlled broadcaster RT, Margarita Simonyan, asked Musk to “unban the RT and Sputnik accounts and take the shadow ban from mine too?”

Pressure is mounting on Musk and Twitter as he is set to address Twitter staff on Friday after closing the deal.

“Hey @ElonMusk, now that you own Twitter, will you help fight back against Trudeau’s online censorship bill C-11?” tweeted Canada Proud, an organization working to vote out Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“First I’ve heard,” Musk replied in a tweet on Friday.


Several employees who spoke to Reuters on Friday said there had been no communication from management about what happens next.

Musk was expected to address employees on Friday, but employees said they had received no notification by late afternoon.

Two sources familiar with the matter said Musk’s team was examining Twitter’s code and asking questions about how aspects of the platform work.

Musk appeared to have joined the company’s Slack channel by Friday, according to a screenshot seen by Reuters.

Musk also tweeted Friday that Twitter will form a “content moderation council with widely divergent views” and that no major decisions about moderation or account recovery will be made until it convenes.

Despite an appeal to advertisers on Thursday that he hoped to make Twitter “the most respected advertising platform in the world”, at least one major carmaker – GM ( GM.N ) – said it was temporarily halting advertising and working to “understand direction of the platform under their new ownership.”

Employees also continued to worry about the future of their jobs. Fewer than 10% of 266 Twitter employees who took part in a poll on messaging app Blind expected to still have their jobs in three months. Blind allows employees to send complaints anonymously after they have registered with their company email.

Musk fired Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal and head of legal affairs and policy Vijaya Gadde, according to people familiar with the matter. He had accused them of misleading him and Twitter investors over the number of fake accounts on the platform.

Agrawal and Segal were at Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco when the deal closed and were escorted out, the sources added.

Musk, who also runs the rocket company SpaceX, plans to become Twitter’s interim CEO, according to a person familiar with the matter and following an earlier report by Reuters. Musk also plans to remove permanent bans on users, Bloomberg said, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Twitter, Musk and its executives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


Before closing the deal, Musk walked into Twitter’s headquarters Wednesday with a big grin and a china sink, then tweeted “let it sink in.” He changed his Twitter profile description to “Chief Twit”.

European regulators also reiterated earlier warnings that Twitter under Musk’s leadership must still comply with the region’s Digital Services Act, which imposes heavy fines on companies if they fail to control illegal content.

“In Europe, the bird will fly by our EU rules,” tweeted EU industry chief Thierry Breton on Friday morning.

European Parliament lawmaker and civil rights campaigner Patrick Breyer suggested people look for alternatives where privacy is a priority.

“Twitter already knows our personalities dangerously well due to its extensive monitoring of every click. Now this knowledge will fall into Musk’s hands.”

Musk has indicated that he sees Twitter as a foundation for creating a “super app” that offers everything from money transfers to shopping and travel chat.

But Twitter is struggling to engage its most active users who are critical to the business. These “heavy tweeters” account for less than 10% of the monthly total users, but generate 90% of all tweets and half of the global revenue.

Musk will face a challenge in building revenue “given that the controversial opinions he appears to want to give more free rein to are often unpalatable to advertisers,” said Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Susannah Streeter.

As news of the deal spread, some Twitter users were quick to flag their willingness to walk away.

“I would leave in a heartbeat if Musk, well, acts like we all expect him to,” said one user with the @mustlovedogsxo account.

Reporting by Sheila Dang in Dallas; additional reporting by David Shepardson and Katie Paul; Editing by Kenneth Li, Nick Zieminski, Deepa Babington and Jacqueline Wong

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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