Give me your tired, your cold, your huddled masses of journalists yearning for a shot of Elon Musk at Twitter’s Mid-Market headquarters.
The first full day of the billionaire’s regime as the new owner of the San Francisco-based social network was a relatively quiet affair—unless you count the endless thinkpieces, and the chatter from a scrum of media staking out the company’s office on Friday.
Since Musk officially took control of Twitter on Thursday, he has fired four top executives including former CEO Parag Agrawal and policy chief Vijaya Gadde—who was a frequent target of criticism, in particular, for the role she played in permanently banning former President Donald Trump.
And Musk is already hinting at potential changes to the company’s content moderation and governance.
According to Network Contagion Research Institute, a social media research and monitoring group, Musk’s takeover of Twitter corresponded with a rise in the use of hate speech on the platform as users tested boundaries under the company’s new ownership.
Trump, for his part, posted on rival social media service Truth Social that he is “very happy that Twitter is now in sane hands”—although he has indicated in the past that he doesn’t plan to return.
Any decision to reinstate Trump, who was permanently banned in January 2021, may not ultimately lie with Musk.
As part of his effort to balance concerns about “free speech” with his pledge to stop Twitter from becoming a “free-for-all hellscape,” Musk announced plans to create a “content moderation council” that will be the arbiter of major content decisions and whether banned accounts can be reinstated.
Ahmed Banafa, an engineering professor at San Jose State University, said part of the issue is the mutable definition of free speech depending on who is making the argument and where they are located.
“Whatever is considered free speech here is not going to be considered free speech in Iran,” Banafa said. “He’s going to find himself sitting in the same seat as every CEO of a social media company.”
As opposed to a company like Tesla, where most major problems are in the engineering realm, Banafa said Musk ownership of Twitter comes with a host of much more complex and nuanced political concerns.
The company has filed paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission notifying regulators that it is removing its listing on the New York Stock Exchange as part of its transition to a private company.
Matthew Faulkner, a professor of accounting and finance at San Jose State University, said Twitter’s transition into a private ownership means less required reporting and more flexibility in how Musk wants to change business operations and internal policies at the company.
Faulkner also raised the issue of the debt load Twitter has taken on as part of the acquisition, which could mean up to $1 billion in annual interest payments.
Twitter’s advertisers are also in a tenuous spot as they await any change in content under Musk’s ownership.
In a memo this week, Musk laid out a vision for the platform in a bid to assure advertisers that Twitter will still be a hospitable platform.
But at least one major advertiser is taking a wait-and-see approach: General Motors told CNBC that it is “pausing” its paid advertising on Twitter until it can better understand the direction of the platform under Musk.
Although reports leading up to Musk’s Twitter takeover had many employees bracing for major layoffs, a previously planned all-hands company meeting was canceled and no major job cuts associated with the takeover have been announced to date.
In one of the day’s more bizarre events, two men posed as laid off “data engineers” carrying banker’s boxes and tricking some media members into repeating their claims about leaving the company and criticisms of Musk.
One of the men provided the name Rahul Ligma (See: Urban Dictionary) and brandished a copy of Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming.
Unsurprisingly, Musk shared a photo of the two pranksters and made his own crude quip—which could also serve as a bit of foreshadowing for the platform’s future.
“Comedy is now legal on Twitter,” Musk tweeted. It’s yet to be seen who will be laughing when everything finally shakes out.
Kevin Truong can be reached at email@example.com