it musk be done

The ways in which Elon Musk could change Twitter on the inside and on the outside

Musk has until tomorrow (Oct. 28) to conclude the $44 billion deal to buy Twitter
Fluttering around.
Fluttering around.
Photo: Samuel Corum (Getty Images)
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Seemingly ready to buy Twitter, Elon Musk changed his Twitter bio to “Chief Twit” and visited the company’s San Francisco office wielding a sink.

Musk has until tomorrow (Oct. 28) to conclude the $44 billion deal, which he tried his best to abandon but he could not. (Especially after Twitter sued him.)

If all goes well—meaning that he abides by the agreed-upon terms, the deal gets financed, and the government doesn’t order regulatory actions—the world’s richest man will soon own the microblogging platform.

Musk, the walking kitchen sink metaphor

Perhaps Musk just couldn’t resist a visual joke about letting the news of his Twitter ownership “sink in.” But in political parties and corporate circles, “kitchen sinking” means to open the tap on all the bad news at once instead of letting it drip over time.

When Musk takes the reins, he’s expected to overhaul Twitter both on the inside and on the outside.

Will Musk fire 75% of Twitter employees?

On Oct. 20, the Washington Post reported that Musk was looking to shrink Twitter’s headcount from 7,500 to 2,000. The idea didn’t seem too far-fetched given that Musk had, in text exchanges with investors, said it was “very unhealthy” that Twitter had “~3x the headcount per unit of revenue of other social media companies.”

But during his visit to Twitter’s office yesterday, Musk denied plans to slash 75% of the staff when he takes over, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the matter. However, this doesn’t mean that every job at Twitter is safe. Rumor is that CEO Parag Agarwal will likely be booted, especially since he’s taken on Musk in the past.

Will Musk prioritize free speech?

Musk tried to make his bid all about democracy and free speech, calling Twitter the “de facto public town square.” Of course, the billionaire businessman who uses the platform to make crass jokes, weigh on conflicts around the world, and bully journalists while applauding “citizen journalism” on Twitter, isn’t a fan of the platform’s content moderation efforts.

When he takes charge, he probably can’t turn content moderation off entirely. But he could influence important decisions. For instance, he might “unblock” users like former president Donald Trump overnight, Roy Gutterman, director of Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University, told PBS. “So with the snap of a finger once he owns the sandbox, he can let anybody in or keep anybody out.”

Musk has already said he wants to make Twitter algorithms “open source to increase trust,” suggesting relying more on users and third parties to design their filters and therefore their own version of the feed, instead of letting the platform make hard-and-fast decisions. But it doesn’t sound “technically feasible” and there doesn’t seem to be a “discernible way to generate revenue to pay for the moderation costs involved,” according to Mark MacCarthy of think tank Brookings. And it could pose privacy issues.

Regardless, the platform and its new owner need to find a middle ground because if it becomes Musk’s way or the highway, Twitter could become even more of a cesspool than it is.

“With Musk, his posturing of free speech—just leave everything up—that would be bad in and of itself. If you stop moderating with automated systems and human reviews, a site like Twitter, in the space of a short period of time, you would have a cesspool.” Paul Barrett, deputy director of the Center for Business and Human Rights at New York University.

What about Musk’s superapp dreams?

For Musk, the bigger picture is not about Twitter at all. It’s about creating an everything app. Musk wants to add non-social media elements like a payment platform and a subscription feature.

But unfortunately for Musk, that vision has many hurdles to pass, including Americans probably not wanting an all-purpose app and US regulation likely not allowing it.

One more thing: Watch out Apple

Apple’s new guidelines say social media platforms which allow promoted and paid boosts to media posts are subject to a 30% revenue cut for in-app purchases. Musk has said “30% is a lot” and dubbed the Apple-Spotify feud over the levy “concerning.”

Once Musk takes a seat at the helm of Twitter, the problem becomes more personal. As he tries to boost Twitter’s revenue, this is one area in which he could go after Apple. And that would only scratch the surface of a tech shakedown Musk is capable off.

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