What comes to your mind when you hear Elon Musk and Twitter in the same sentence? Doom, destruction, annihilation and the end of Twitter or free speech, amazement, admiration and respect. Some might be utterly confused as to what lies ahead for Twitter, its users and the rest of the world. I wonder the same.
Twitter was founded by Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams in 2006 as a microblogging and social networking site. It became popular quiet instantly with over 17 million users by May 2009. It was primarily used as a source of news, entertainment and a marketing tool for businesses. In 2013 with over 200 million users Twitter became public and came out with an IPO. A decade later it is among the top 3 social networking sites and its strength or more aptly its superpower is influence.
Long before Elon Musk showed interest in acquiring Twitter he used it as a platform to promote his products. According to Elon Musk himself, Tesla never needed to spend exorbitant amounts of money to advertise in the traditional ways. He was able to reach millions of followers through Twitter.
Musk initially showed an interest in acquiring Twitter in 2017. But it was only early in 2022 that he started buying Twitter shares. By the end of April 2022 he owned 9% of the shares. He made a deal with Twitter that gave him the position of Board of director but restricted his shares to 14.9 % of the company. He offered to buy Twitter at $43 billion in April of 2022. The deal was finalised in October 2022 at $44 billion. As of November 2022 Twitter is no longer a publicly listed company and has been delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.
As soon as the acquisition was completed the top management of Twitter was fired. Musk replaced Parag Agarwal as the CEO of Twitter. He also dissolved the board of directors making himself as the sole director. Citing he wanted to take Twitter on a healthy path he laid off 50% of the employees.
Next he made changes to the verification process. Now to get a blue tick after your name all you need is a subscription fee of $8 per month. He Tweeted this information saying” “Twitter’s current lords & peasants system for who has or doesn’t have a blue checkmark is bullshit. Power to the people! Blue for $8/month.”
Propagating the idea of freedom of speech he reinstated comedian Kathy Griffin’s account which had earlier been banned for impersonating him on the site. On 19th November he reinstated Donald Trump’s account reversing the ban on Donald Trump on social media since the riots in January of 2021.
He intends to bring back Vine and to start charging for video content. He sent a message to advertisers that he would not allow the site to become a hotbed of hate speech. 90% of Twitter revenue is from advertising and now this seems to be at risk as large companies like General Mills, General Motors and Pfizer have paused their advertisements on Twitter.
Although Twitter has never made sustained profits, and this will most certainly be evident to a shrewd businessman like Musk, it was still bought by him. Has he taken over Twitter to save it from doom and revamp it into a profitable business? This sounds extremely unlikely to me. The numbers simply do not make sense and defy logic.
The laying off of 50% of its employees and charging $8 for verification will generate a cash flow which will help the platform to exist. But it still does not make any commercial sense. Musk, I am sure, does not care about this. His agenda is different, something like Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post.
Acquiring Twitter was not about economics but about influence. It is a means to an end and not just about making money. It was not a commercial move but a strategic move to control and regulate the views of the 100 million followers. With the acquisition of Twitter Musk has at his disposal a huge database for promoting his products and views. His reach now goes far beyond his fanbase. He now has the power to shape conversations and this to me is terrifying. For one individual to hold such power is alarming, especially one who is promoting such a lopsided view on free speech. This looser moderation on Twitter is bound to blur the lines between facts and lies. It will be impossible to differentiate between factual information, marketing or propaganda.
With Elon Musk’s erratic behaviour and brash handling of Twitter employees one might assume it is the end of Twitter. The remaining confidence is lost in Twitter’s existence with Elon Musk’s ultimatum to the remaining employees to be prepared to work extremely hard or else to hand in their resignations.
Musk’s net worth is over $200 billion and he will not face any issue whether Twitter is profitable or not. However I can guarantee that Twitter is here to stay. Musk is a smart businessman and a self proclaimed nano manager and he plans to run Twitter till it’s back on its feet. He has roped in engineers from Tesla to work on the code which has not been updated in the past few years. Musk is not concerned about the mass exodus of disgruntled employees and claims he has the people he wants to turn the company around.
I will cheer for this thought but with a guarded and skeptical enthusiasm. Twitter is one of the strongest social media platforms with a tremendous power to have an impact on the world and it needs to be used in an ethical manner for a progressive and peaceful society. Here’s hoping for a bright future for Twitter!