Twitter under Musk? Most of the plans are a mystery

Oct 5, 2022, 3:03 PM | Updated: Oct 9, 2022, 1:51 pm
Traders gather around a post as Twitter shares resume trading on the floor at the New York Stock Ex...

Traders gather around a post as Twitter shares resume trading on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange in New York, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A super app called X? A bot-free free speech haven? These are some of Elon Musk’s mysterious plans for Twitter, now that he may be buying the company after all.

After months of squabbling over the fate of their bombshell $44 billion deal, the billionaire and the bird app are essentially back to square one — if a bit worse for wear as trust and goodwill has seemed to erode on both sides.

Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX and Twitter’s most high-profile user since former President Donald Trump was booted from it, has shared few concrete details about his plans for the social media platform. While he’s touted free speech and derided spam bots since agreeing to buy the company in April, what he actually wants to do about either is shrouded in mystery.

He could own one of the world’s most powerful communications platforms with 237 million daily users in a matter of weeks, though the deal is not final. The lack of clear plans for the platform are raising concern among Twitter’s constituencies, ranging from users in conflict regions where it offers an information lifeline to the company’s own employees.

“Both users and advertisers are — understandably — anxious about whether the move will fundamentally change the culture of the platform,” said Brooke Erin Duffy, a professor at Cornell University who studies social media. “And so, Musk will need to decide whether he wants to quash their concerns by retaining core features (the content moderation system, for instance) and keeping the company public — or whether he will undertake a full-scale overhaul.”

Muddling things further, on Tuesday Musk tweeted that “Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app,” without further explanation.

Although Musk’s tweets and statements have been cryptic, technology analysts have speculated that Musk wants to re-create a version of China’s WeChat app that can do video chats, messaging, streaming, scan bar codes and make payments.

He gave a little more detail during Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting in August, telling the crowd at a factory near Austin, Texas, that he uses Twitter frequently and knows the product well. “I think I’ve got a good sense of where to point the engineering team with Twitter to make it radically better,” he said.

Handling payments for goods could be a key part of the app. Musk said he has a “grander vision” for what X.com, an online bank he started early in his career that eventually became part of PayPal, could have been.

“Obviously that could be started from scratch, but I think Twitter would help accelerate that by three-to-five years,” Musk said at the August meeting. “So it’s kind of something that I thought would be quite useful for a long time. I know what to do.”

For now, Twitter has immediate and pressing problems Musk will need to deal with if he takes ownership of the company. Its social media rivals are struggling with declining stock prices and some, like Snap, even announced layoffs. Government regulation and attracting younger users away from TikTok are also challenges. And Musk’s vision of a free speech haven has social media and content moderation experts, as well as digital and human rights advocates, concerned.

“When this all started in the spring, we had indicators and a strong sense of what Musk might do with the platform,” said Angelo Carusone of Media Matters, a watchdog group that opposes the takeover. “Because of the lawsuit, we know who he’s been talking to, what he’s been saying and the types of far-right ideological decision makers he wants to put in place. To put it bluntly, the worst fears have been confirmed.”

Twitter employees, under former CEO Jack Dorsey and his predecessors, have spent years working to tame the platform once called the “free-speech wing of the free-speech party” where hate and harassment abound into something where all are welcome and safe. While it’s far from perfect, critics worry Musk’s ownership will mean turning back the clock on years of this work.

“Musk made it clear that he would roll back Twitter’s community standards and safety guidelines, reinstate Donald Trump along with scores of other accounts suspended for violence and abuse, and open the floodgates of disinformation,” Carusone said.

The company, for instance, was an early adopter of the “report abuse” button in 2013, after U.K. member of parliament Stella Creasy received a barrage of rape and death threats on the platform, echoing the experiences of other women over the years.

In subsequent years, Twitter continued to craft rules and invest in staff and technology to detect violent threats, harassment and misinformation that violates its policies. After evidence emerged that Russia used their platforms to try to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, social media companies also stepped up their efforts against political misinformation.

The big question now is how far Musk, who describes himself as a “free-speech absolutist,” wants to ratchet back these systems — and whether users and advertisers will stick around if he does.

Aiming to tamp down such worries, Musk said in May he wants Twitter to be “as broadly inclusive as possible ” where ideally, most of America is on it and talking — a far cry from the far-right playground his critics are warning against.

And while Musk has hinted he’d consider reinstating Trump’s account, it’s not clear the former president, who has since launched his own social media platform, would return.

Then there’s the matter of Twitter’s employees, who’ve been living with uncertainty, high- (and low-) profile departures and a potential owner who’s publicly derided them on their own platform. Musk has also targeted Twitter’s work-from home policy, having once called for the company’s headquarters to be turned into a “homeless shelter” because, he said, so few employees actually worked there.

As a hyper-frequent Twitter user with over 100 million followers, Musk does know how to use the platform. During an all-hands staff meeting Musk attended in June, he said his goal was to make it “so compelling that you can’t live without it.” If he’s able to realize this, it could finally put Twitter in the big leagues of social media, with TikTok and Meta’s Facebook and Instagram, where users are counted in the billions, not mere millions.

Of course, Musk is also well known for predictions that are delayed or may not come true, such as colonizing Mars or deploying a fleet of autonomous robotaxis.

“This is not a car manufacturer where, good enough, all you have to do is beat General Motors. Sorry, that isn’t really that hard,” said David Kirsch, a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland who’s studied Twitter bots’ effect on Tesla’s stock price. “You are dealing here with all of these other companies (that) also have very sophisticated AI programs, very sophisticated PhD programmers…everyone is trying to crack this nut.”

Krisher reported from Detroit.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - A worker in protective suit walks through the caution tapes along metal barricades retail sh...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: Why are China’s COVID rules so strict?

BEIJING (AP) — At the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, China set out its “zero-COVID” measures that were harsh, but not out of line with what many other countries were doing to try and contain the virus. While most other nations saw the health and safety regulations as temporary until vaccines were widely available, however, […]
5 hours ago
In this photo provided by Fidelity Charitable, Fidelity Charitable President Jacob Pruitt is photog...
Associated Press

Fidelity Charitable: New grants to surpass deposits in 2022

Fidelity Charitable, the nation’s largest grantmaker, expects 2022 will be the first year since 2018 that the value of grants from its donor advised funds exceeds the value of investments going into the funds. Jacob Pruitt, Fidelity Charitable’s president, told The Associated Press that donations this year are on track to set a record, even […]
5 hours ago
A migrant laborer paints The Pearl Monument, a sculpture depicting an open oyster shell with runnin...
Associated Press

Qatar says worker deaths for World Cup ‘between 400 and 500’

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — A top Qatari official involved in the country’s World Cup organization has put the number of worker deaths for the tournament “between 400 and 500” for the first time, a drastically higher number than any other previously offered by Doha. The comment by Hassan al-Thawadi, the secretary-general of Qatar’s Supreme Committee […]
5 hours ago
President Joe Biden gestures boarding Air Force One at Nantucket Memorial Airport in Nantucket, Mas...
Associated Press

Biden to visit Michigan computer chip factory, push agenda

WASHINGTON (AP) — The midterm elections may be over, but President Joe Biden is staying on the road to push his economic agenda. He’s visiting Bay City, Michigan, on Tuesday to highlight a $300 million expansion of a semiconductor manufacturing plant. The facility, run by the South Korean company SK Siltron, is expected to quadruple […]
5 hours ago
FILE - Britain's Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Michelle Donelan leaves a...
Associated Press

UK waters down internet rules plan after free speech outcry

LONDON (AP) — The British government has abandoned a plan to force tech firms to remove internet content that is harmful but legal, after the proposal drew strong criticism from lawmakers and civil liberties groups. The U.K. on Tuesday defended its decision to water down the Online Safety Bill, an ambitious but controversial attempt to […]
5 hours ago
Associated Press

Trial starts in Norway for Putin ally’s son who flew drone

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The son of a Russian businessman close to President Vladimir Putin denied any wrongdoing Tuesday at the start of his trial in northern Norway where he is accused of violating a law that bars Russians from flying drones. Andrey Yakunin who holds both a Russian and British passport, was arrested in […]
5 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Desert Institute for Spine Care photo)...
DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Why DISC is world renowned for back and neck pain treatments

Fifty percent of Americans and 90% of people at least 50 years old have some level of degenerative disc disease.
...
SCHWARTZ LASER EYE CENTER

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
Twitter under Musk? Most of the plans are a mystery