Musk’s ill-advised $44 billion, $54.20 per share offer significantly overvalued the company, which traded as low as $32.65 per share in July. That’s thanks in part to his own vocal criticism of the company he now owns.
Despite his best efforts to exit the deal ― at one point tweeting a poop emoji at Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal ― Musk now has to actually manage the company.
“It’s like the figurative ‘the dog that caught the car’ now that he owns Twitter,” William Klepper, an expert on corporate governance and a professor at Columbia Business School, previously told HuffPost. “He’ll have to provide the executive leadership needed to maintain and grow the company. He can’t just hold it in his portfolio!”
Musk immediately fired four top executives, including CEO Parag Agrawal, and appointed himself the new “Chief Twit.”
Despite the purge, there remain significantly more unknowns about Musk’s plans for the influential platform, and the world’s richest person has a history of grand visions that can be slow to materialize (or don’t pan out).
Here’s what may change in the Musk era at the bird app so many of us love to hate.
Musk, a self-described “free speech absolutist,” has publicly indicated he’ll permit more controversial posts on the platform. But outside of tweeting broad aphorisms, he’s been light on specifics.
Things could get tricky for Musk, whose wealth rises and falls with the value of Tesla, a brand that’s tightly linked to his public persona and could bear the brunt of shifting consumer sentiment if, say, Musk opens the floodgates to a bunch of white supremacists on Twitter.
The Tesla influence has a worrying geopolitical flip side. What happens, for instance, if Russia asks Musk to silence Twitter dissent there, in exchange for access to its rare earth reserves, which Tesla needs for battery production?
Evan Greer, deputy director at Fight for the Future, a digital rights nonprofit, had a similar concern.
“Content moderation decisions on platforms as consequential as Twitter should be made carefully and through a human rights framework,” Greer said in an earlier emailed statement. “Now, there is a single human with the power to make changes to Twitter’s speech policies. That’s not a boon for free expression, it makes a mockery of it.”
“It was a problem when Twitter answered to Wall Street,” they continued. “But it’s certainly not better if it’s run by one billionaire.”
Un-Banning The Banned
After years of using Twitter to spread aggressive and violent rhetoric, the company permanently banned Donald Trump on Jan. 8, 2021, days after the then-president used the platform to incite a violent mob to attack the U.S. Capitol.
Musk wants to rescind Trump’s ban in particular ― and the policy of permanent bans in general.
The entrepreneur told the Financial Times in May that he believes perma-bans fracture dialogue and undermine trust in the platform while doing nothing to encourage civility. Permanent bans, he said, should be reserved only for bots and spam accounts.
“That doesn’t mean that somebody gets to say whatever they want to say,” Musk said. “If they say something that is illegal or otherwise just destructive to the world, then perhaps there should be a timeout, a temporary suspension, or that particular tweet should be made invisible or have very limited traction.”
“But I think perma-bans just fundamentally undermine trust in Twitter as a town square where everyone can voice their opinion,” he added.
“I think [perma-banning Trump] was a morally bad decision, to be clear. And foolish in the extreme.”
Bye, Bye Birdie
As a result, Twitter employees are likely to start looking for the exits if they haven’t already. That includes CEO Agrawal, whom Musk seems to have soured on and who stands to make $60 million if he’s fired.
Twitter could soon find itself lacking the right personnel to build Musk’s vision ― let alone maintain what the company has already built.
Revenue, Revenue, Revenue
In an open letter Thursday, Musk addressed Twitter’s most important users: advertisers. Advertising comprised 89% of Twitter’s $5.08 billion revenue in 2021, and without advertisers’ buy-in, he’s doomed unless he can diversify revenue streams ― and quickly.
Musk’s acquisition deal also saddled Twitter with $13 billion in debt, making it even more urgent to squeeze the platform for additional profit.
Brands don’t want to be associated with the toxic content Musk has toyed with allowing back on the platform, landing him in a delicate position from the outset.
He tried to head that off Thursday, telling advertisers he wants Twitter “to be the most respected advertising platform in the world,” and that Twitter “cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences!”
How he intends to achieve that while also relaxing the platform’s moderation policies remains to be seen, though Musk’s pitch to investors suggests he’ll go all-in on subscription fees.
A copy of Musk’s pitch deck obtained by The New York Times shows he wants advertising to account for less than half the company’s revenue by 2028, at which point he expects the company to generate $26.4 billion a year. Additional revenue will primarily be generated by subscriptions, followed by a yet-to-be-seen payments business, and data licensing.