What will Twitter look like under Elon Musk?

Elon Musk has completed his takeover of Twitter and is now in control of one of the most influential social media platforms.

After a protracted saga around the acquisition, the biggest questions now are how will Mr Musk run Twitter and how might it change?

Here is a closer look at some of the biggest and most controversial changes that could be coming.

– Free speech and the ‘common digital town square’

The Tesla and SpaceX boss has said he believes strongly in absolute free speech, to the extent that anything that is not illegal should be allowed to stay online, and has confirmed he would allow banned accounts, such as that of former US president Donald Trump, to return to help achieve Twitter’s mission to be an unfiltered “common digital town square”.

The Twitter social media app displaying a tweet by Elon Musk on a mobile phone
The Twitter social media app displaying a tweet by Elon Musk on a mobile phone (Yui Mok/PA)

Mr Musk has said he believes it is “important to the future of civilisation” to have a space where “a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner”.

This stance would be likely to face significant issues once the Online Safety Bill comes into effect in the UK.

While the Bill has pledged to protect free speech through protections around content of democratic importance and from news publishers, it will require platforms not just to take down any illegal content but also any topics which have been designated “legal but harmful”, which is likely to be content linked to abuse or harassment, among other things.

With large fines and even the prospect of being banned from the UK as potential penalties, Mr Musk is likely to have to soften his stance on absolute free speech if he wants Twitter to stay on the right side of regulators.

Advertisers too are unlikely to be happy about the possibility of their adverts appearing alongside increasingly controversial content.

Mr Musk appears to have realised this himself, saying in the days ahead of the takeover that “Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences”.

“In addition to adhering to the laws of the land, our platform must be warm and welcoming to all, where you can choose your desired experience according to your preferences,” he said.

– The everything app

A key moment in this takeover saga came when Mr Musk confirmed he would go ahead with the deal and said buying the platform was “an accelerant to creating X, the everything app”.

Elon Musk
Elon Musk (Brian Lawless/PA)

The billionaire has spoken broadly in the past about his support for the idea of an “everything app” – a single place where users can access most, if not all, of their favourite online services and utilities.

In China, a version of the everything app idea already exists in WeChat, which began life as a messaging platform similar to WhatsApp, but has since become a mini-internet within a single app – allowing users to do everything from share social media-style posts with friends, to getting news, making mobile payments, booking restaurants and ordering taxis.

Nothing similar exists in the West.

Some experts have questioned Mr Musk’s ability or even desire to actually create such a service, but no-one can match the resources he has – he is the world’s wealthiest person – and he has experience in digital payments through PayPal and transport through Tesla which could help bring together different services in one place.

– Inside the company

Mr Musk’s public sparring with Twitter and criticism of the company in the months before the takeover has not sat well with some Twitter staff, with reports of many even planning to leave once the takeover was closed over their fears about Mr Musk’s proposed new direction for the company.

Industry analyst Mike Proulx said earlier this month that “earning and retaining the trust” of Twitter’s employees should be Mr Musk’s “number one mission”.

“Twitter remains an important part of our culture regardless of the ongoing drama around this on-again, off-again, and back-on-again deal,” he said.

“Twitter’s future is bleak without an engaged employee base and there’s a lot of repair work to be done there.”

Some work appears to have already begun in this area – during his visit to Twitter’s head office before the takeover was completed, Mr Musk reportedly told staff that it was not true that he was planning on cutting up to 75% of Twitter staff after acquiring the company.

It had previously been reported that Mr Musk had told investors he planned to cut back around three-quarters of the firm’s 7,500 employees.

However, Mr Musk did use his first act after taking control of the company to remove three of the firm’s most senior executives, including chief executive Parag Agrawal and legal policy, trust and safety lead Vijaya Gadde.

This has already caused alarm among some online safety campaigners, who have warned that a shift in Twitter’s policy around safety and free speech could make the platform more dangerous, while others have suggested the internal turmoil during Mr Musk’s restructuring could make the platform more vulnerable to hackers.

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