What will happen to Twitter now that Elon Musk will be in charge? Even the company’s CEO Parag Agrawal does not know what it will mean. Or any of the employees at the company. That is the biggest takeaway from Musk’s $44 billion deal to acquire the social media platform. It was not a long-drawn affair, at least in the public eye — a quick operation, if you may.
The deal may be done in principle, but the process for getting all regulatory approvals has just begun. Regulators and shareholders will have to approve the deal, and if all goes according to plan for Musk, he should be finally in charge of Twitter by the end of 2022. It remains to be seen what shareholders (if it even matters now) make of Musk’s plans to take the company private, protect what he calls free speech, fight bots on the platform, and make the platform’s algorithms open source.
Twitter tried every trick in the book, including the much-talked-about “poison pill” response in which existing shareholders were expected to prevent the deal from happening. Yet, it never transpired that way. In fact, Musk’s April 14 offer of $44 billion valuing the company at $54.20 per share, has finally been accepted, a couple of weeks or so later.
Musk clarified the funding plans for this deal in a US Securities and Exchange Commission filing last week. The deal has been structured on loans to the tune of $25.5 billion, which analysts believe may cost Twitter a significant chunk of its annual revenue in servicing fees.
No one knows why the company changed its tune from not entertaining Musk’s attempts at buying the social media company to finally selling it to him without seemingly any further negotiations. At least on the monetary terms.
“Twitter has a purpose and relevance that impacts the entire world,” said Agrawal in a statement. “Deeply proud of our teams and inspired by the work that has never been more important.”
But why did Musk really need to buy Twitter? That is the question, which holds the answer to the big question — what is next for Twitter?
Twitter becomes the third tech company in Musk’s portfolio. That is Tesla, SpaceX, and now the social media giant. Jack Dorsey, the Twitter co-founder who stepped down and handed the reigns to Parag Agrawal this year, will be around for a few more months. He has given his backing to Musk as the man to lead Twitter forward, while also lending his support to Agrawal. While calling Twitter the “closest thing to global consciousness”, he posted a series of tweets.
“In principle, I don’t believe anyone should own or run Twitter. It wants to be a public good at a protocol level, not a company. Solving the problem of it being a company, however, Elon is the singular solution I trust. I trust his mission to extend the light of consciousness,” he said. “In principle, I don’t believe anyone should own or run Twitter. It wants to be a public good at a protocol level, not a company. Solving the problem of it being a company, however, Elon is the singular solution I trust. I trust his mission to extend the light of consciousness.”
Free speech vs offensive posts: who wins?
Musk has called himself a “free speech absolutist”. He has often argued that even if a social media post is offensive, it should not be removed if it is not illegal. In a recent TED speech, he called it a grey area, and he is willing to lean on the side of protecting the cause of speech rather than sacrificing it at the altar of policies that define what is offensive. What this will mean for Twitter’s extensive (and painfully curated content moderation policies and guidelines) remains anyone’s guess. We may actually have a situation where the rule book gets chucked out.
Will Twitter now unban Donald Trump? Will the millions of accounts banned for offensive posts and fake news, albeit with greater focus over the last couple of years, now have their bans relooked? Trump, on his part, told Fox News that he would not be returning to Twitter, and will be staying on the platform he pretty much created for his legion of fans (many of them are banned on Twitter), called TRUTH. Trump also called Musk “a good man” in the same interaction.
Edit button: the missing link?
Millions have been requesting Twitter an edit button for tweets. Musk has sided with them. Work seems to have started on that front with Twitter confirming the same just days ago. The first of Musk’s big impacts even before he takes over? There is fear that an edit button will allow for even more manipulation of information on the platform. But the workaround could be a ready-to-view history of edits for any tweet, which will allow for the preservation of the original tweet alongside any changes since. Cleaning up typos or correcting incorrect information will get a boost. But it can equally be used to spread misinformation first and then hide the same later, once the desired impact has been achieved.
Making Twitter algorithms public
As with most things, there are two sides to this coin too. Musk wants to make Twitter’s algorithms public, placing them on the popular code repository GitHub. This should give developers and users a better insight into how the complex algorithms work since they handle millions of pieces of content daily. We may even better understand how something starts trending, how a tweet goes viral, and how the recommendations work. But what is to be achieved by this transparency? Perhaps a clearer idea of why tweets are promoted or demoted on the newsfeeds.
End of the road for bots?
Musk does not like bots. Twitter is full of bots, which are fake accounts, automated as the name may suggest, to post tweets and retweets on certain topics to spread information or misinformation or make something trend. Musk and Twitter will have to distinguish between bots spreading fake news or unleashing tweetstorm against a particular entity for instance, versus the not-so-evil bots (some are very supportive of Tesla, the electric car company owned by Musk). The job may be harder than it seems.
Twitter, by its nature, is dictating the political discourse and driving social conversations in many countries, including India. The change of guard will have repercussions. Whether it in any way has an impact on Twitter’s positioning, possible political leanings and the way in which the free speech idea is implemented remains to be seen.
Those who feel they have been moderated (or blocked on the platform) may be cheering this on, while others may say this will make Twitter a platform for the sort of discourse that had been painstakingly ironed out to an extent over the past few years. Both schools of thought have their reasons for their opinions. But for all it is worth, Twitter has gained greater significance overnight.