In April 2022, Elon Musk announced his intention to buy Twitter for 44 billion dollars.
From then ensued a confusing back and forth where shareholders resisted, adopting a limited duration shareholder rights plan, otherwise called a “poison pill”. This is a corporate defence mechanism releasing stock for shareholders to buy at a discounted price, making it more expensive for a potential buyer to acquire a majority stake.
After sourcing the capital to finance his project, Musk struck a deal for Twitter’s acquisition at 54.20 dollars a share. Calling bots and scam accounts “the single most annoying problem”, Musk later threatened to withdraw from the deal, claiming that the company had not been transparent with him regarding the number of fake accounts. In July 2022, Musk terminated the agreement and got immediately sued by Twitter.
Filing a countersuit accusing the company of fraud, the Tesla CEO prepared for the lawsuit that was poised to begin in October. Against all expectations, Musk suddenly offered to buy Twitter for the initially agreed price, and the agreement was sealed on the 27th of October.
It has been suggested that Elon Musk intends to dismiss half of Twitter’s 7,500 employees, with 15% of the trust and safety organization, i.e., the content moderation team, already removed.
According to his tweet, the company is losing more than 4 million dollars daily and has “no choice” but to cut costs. A class action lawsuit was filed in San Francisco, Twitter’s headquarters, with employees claiming they were not given the 60-day advance notice required by Californian law.
The company’s management was not spared either: CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal, policy head Vijaya Gadde and Twitter’s general counsel Sean Edgett were all dismissed, thereby securing Musk’s position as the sole director.
Elon Musk has been vocal about his vision for the platform. His greatest plan seems to be X (which also happens to be his son’s name), “the everything app” which will be a competitor to WeChat, owned by the Chinese company Tencent. WeChat is a web browser, food delivery, direct messaging, video gaming, social media and mobile payment app all in one. Whether Twitter will metamorphize into a super-app or be built into X as one of its features remains unclear.
The SpaceX founder has also launched the very poorly received Twitter Blue, which is a paid membership charging users a minimum of 4.99$ a month for features that used to be free, with verified users required to pay 8$ a month. Nonetheless, new features on the table involve an option to edit past tweets, see fewer advertisements, and have priority in replies and searches.
The membership plan seems to be part of Musk’s wider goal of lessening Twitter’s reliance on advertising, which currently constitutes 80% of the company’s revenue. Amidst the recent changes, some advertisers have paused their advertising on the platform, which Elon Musk blamed on activists in a tweet where he claimed they were “trying to destroy free speech in America”. Whilst the message has left people mystified, Musk mentioning free speech is nothing new.
A self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist”, the new CEO of Twitter has called the platform’s ban on Donald Trump, provoked by his tweets regarding the January 6 attacks on Capitol Hill, “morally wrong and stupid” and intends to allow banned users back onto the platform in a few weeks after sketching out a procedure for doing so.
The reintroduction of conspiracy theorists and extremists onto Twitter is worrying given the proven dangers of misinformation on social media platforms, even though Musk tweeted he would create a ‘moderation council’. Users are left to rely on his promise that he won’t let Twitter degenerate into a “hellscape”.
Despite its bans, Twitter has consistently protected free speech on its platform. It has traditionally been reticent in sharing users’ personal information with law enforcement, upholding section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and mostly restricted content on the European market under EU rules, which impose the removal of Nazi and far-right content.
In the United States, however, the future of content moderation rests on two cases that are pending in the Supreme Court; one involving Google’s algorithms allegedly recommending extremist content and the other involving Twitter, which was accused of violating the Anti-Terrorism Act by not removing propaganda from the platform.
The outcome of these cases may rattle Musk’s nonchalance about illegal content online.
‘Elon Musks tries to distract from Twitter layoffs by claiming advertisers are fleeing the platform’, Richard Lawler, 4 November 2022, The Verge
‘Elon Musk begins layoffs at Twitter’, Kate Conger and Ryan Mac, 3 November 2022, New York Times
‘Maximum amazing: here’s what we think we know about Elon Musk’s plan for Twitter”, David Pierce, 5 October 2022, The Verge
‘What Elon Musk has said publicly – and in private texts – about X, his idea for an everything app’, Grace Kay, 15 October 2022, Insider
‘Twitter: Elon Musk defends mass layoffs saying he had no choice’, Sarah Palmers, 5 November 2022, Euronews
‘Elon Musk has taken control of Twitter and fired its top executives’: Donie O’Sullivan and Claire Duffy, 28 October 2022, CNN Business
‘Elon Musk says 8$ monthly fee for Twitter blue tick’, 2 November 2022, BBC
‘Elon Musk says he would reverse the permanent ban of Donald Trump on Twitter’, Mike Isaac, 10 May 2022, The New York Times
‘Elon Musk says Twitter won’t be a free-for-all hellscape, addressing advertiser’s concerns’, Patience Haggin and Suzanne Vranica, 28 October 2022, The Wall Street Journal
‘Elon’s biggest Twitter free speech question is in the courts, not on the platform’, Adi Robertson, 5 October 2022, The Verge