Elon Musk has taken control of Twitter after a protracted legal battle and months of uncertainty. The question now is what the billionaire Tesla boss will actually do with the social media platform.
Musk gave an indication of where he’s headed in a tweet Friday, saying no decisions about content or account reinstatement will be made until a “content moderation council” is put in place. The council, he wrote, would have different views.
Major personnel shakeups are widely expected, with Musk ousting several top executives on Twitter on Thursday. A fourth confirmed his departure, in a tweet.
But Musk, the tech guru and self-proclaimed “Chief Twit,”[ads1]; has otherwise made conflicting statements about his vision for the company — sharing few concrete plans for how he wants to run it after buying it for $44 billion.
That has left Twitter users, advertisers and employees to analyze his every move in an attempt to guess where he might take the company. Many are looking to see if he will welcome back a number of influential conservative figures who have been banned for violating Twitter’s rules — speculation only fueled by upcoming elections in Brazil, the United States and elsewhere.
“I’m going to dig more today,” he tweeted early Friday, in response to a conservative political podcaster who has complained that the platform favors liberals and secretly downgrades conservative votes.
Former President Donald Trump, an avid tweeter before he was banned, said Friday he was “very happy that Twitter is now in sane hands” but promoted his own social media site, Truth Social, which he launched after being blocked from the more used platform.
Trump was banned two days after the Jan. 6 attacks for a pair of tweets that the company said continued to doubts on the legitimacy of the presidential election and raised risks to the presidential inauguration that Trump said he would not attend.
Trump has repeatedly said he will not return to Twitter even if his account is restored, though some allies wonder if he will be able to resist as he nears announcing another expected presidential campaign. His Twitter account remained suspended on Friday.
Meanwhile, conservative personalities on the site began recycling long-rejected conspiracy theories, including about COVID-19 and the 2020 election, in a tongue-in-cheek attempt to “test” whether Twitter’s misinformation policy was still being enforced.
The mercurial musk has not made it easy to predict what he will do.
He has criticized Twitter’s reliance on advertisers, but made a statement Thursday that seemed aimed at assuaging their fears. He has complained about restrictions on speech on the platform – but then vowed he would not let it become a “hellscape”. And for several months it was not even clear whether he would control the company at all.
After Musk signed an agreement to buy Twitter in April, he tried to back out, prompting the company to sue him to force him to go through with the acquisition. A judge in Delaware had ordered that the agreement be finalized by Friday.
Wedbush analyst Dan Ives estimated that Musk and his investors paid too much. Even Musk has said that the $44 billion price tag for Twitter was too high, but that the company had great potential.
The payment “will go down as one of the most overpaid tech buys in the history of M&A deals on the Street, in our opinion,” Ives wrote in a note to investors. “At fair value that we would put at roughly $25 billion, Musk buying Twitter is still a big head scratcher that he ultimately couldn’t get out of once the Delaware courts got involved.”
After months of uncertainty, a series of moves by Musk this week signaled that the deal would indeed go through.
On Wednesday, he strolled into the company’s headquarters in San Francisco with a porcelain sink and tweeted “Walking into Twitter HQ – let it sink in!” Then on Thursday, he tweeted, “the bird is freed,” a reference to Twitter’s logo.
That same day, Musk fired CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal and Chief Legal Counsel Vijaya Gadde. Sean Edgett, who had been Twitter’s general counsel, confirmed on Twitter Friday that he too is out of a job, posting that the company is full of the most amazing people. “Keep taking good care of this place, Tweagle,” he added, referring to the corporate name for Twitter’s legal department. Gadde, meanwhile, removed all references to her former employer from her Twitter bio, while trolls continued to post thousands of offensive messages in response to her latest tweet.
As concerns grow about the direction of Twitter’s content moderation, EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton tweeted to Musk on Friday that “In Europe, the bird will fly by our rules.”
Breton and Musk met in May and appeared in a video together in which Musk said he agreed with the 27-nation bloc’s tough new online rules. The Digital Services Act threatens big tech companies with billions in fines if they don’t monitor platforms more strictly for illegal or harmful content such as hate speech and disinformation.
Musk has also spent months mocking Twitter’s “spam bots” and make sometimes contradictory statements about Twitter’s problems and how to fix them.
He released a memo Thursday aimed at addressing concerns that his plans to promote free speech by cutting back on moderating content would open the floodgates to more online toxicity and drive away users. It showed a newfound emphasis on ad revenue, particularly a need for Twitter to offer more “relevant ads” — which typically means targeted ads that rely on collecting and analyzing users’ personal information.
About 90% of Twitter’s revenue comes from advertising, but it is far from being the largest digital marketing platform. Google, Amazon and Meta account for approximately 75% of digital advertising. Twitter was just 1% of global digital ad spending in 2022, according to an Insider Intelligence forecast.
Lou Paskalis, former head of media for Bank of America, said Twitter’s most loyal advertisers, many Fortune 100 companies, believe in the platform and are unlikely to leave unless “some really unfortunate things” happen. On Friday, General Motors announced it had temporarily paused Twitter advertising while it works to “understand the direction of the platform” under Musk’s ownership. GM described the pause as a normal step it takes when a media platform undergoes “significant change.”
The takeover means that Twitter will become a private company. Trading in the shares was suspended on Friday and they will be delisted from the New York Stock Exchange next month.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Mae Anderson contributed to this story from New York. Follow AP’s coverage of Elon Musk: https://apnews.com/hub/elon-musk
This story has been updated to correct the language in Musk’s tweet to “the bird has been released,” not “the bird has been released.”