4 min read
Freeing or Killing the Bird? The Story of Elon Musk’s Twitter Takeover

Benjamin Vos

“The bird is freed”, Elon Musk tweeted at the end of October. Tesla and SpaceX’s CEO (as well as the world’s richest man), Elon Musk has the world in turmoil after his latest stunt. After months of negotiations and legal battles, Musk’s $44 billion takeover of Twitter became official on October 27, taking the company private. Now, multiple waves of layoffs are causing outrage among Twitter’s employees, with more than half of the 7500-person workforce already laid off by Musk. But more widespread concerns have risen about the future of Twitter and its policies on free speech after Musk said he wants to reverse bans on specific users. 

Elon Musk has never been afraid to share his opinion on Twitter. The free speech absolutist is known for sharing his thoughts on the platform, posting jokes and memes, and of course, posting tweets that greatly influence the stock market. He has publicly criticized Twitter multiple times, for example on its large number of spambot accounts and its policies regarding free speech. Musk started getting involved in April of this year by purchasing 9.2% of Twitter’s shares, making him its largest shareholder. 

Shortly after his failed attempt to join Twitter's board of directors, Musk offered to purchase Twitter for around $44 billion. This is at the agreed-upon $54.20 per-share price that Musk offered back in April. However, Musk is greatly overpaying for the company: At the deal price, Musk is paying nearly eight times the amount of revenue Twitter is expected to generate over the next 12 months. That compares with a sales multiple of just three times for Meta and 3.6 times for Snap. In July, Musk backed out of the deal, stating in a regulatory filing that Twitter had made unfair representations about the number of spambots on the service. This led to Twitter suing Musk for trying to terminate the deal. In October, Musk agreed to the deal and the lawsuit was halted to allow the deal to close. Now that Elon Musk is in charge of Twitter, what are the billionaire’s plans for the social media giant? 

Twitter is often accused of being left-leaning when it comes to banning individuals from their platform. Republicans especially often call Twitter out on their shadowbans or bans of important Republican political figures. In fact, Twitter’s ex-CEO Jack Dorsey has publicly admitted Twitter’s employees have a left-leaning bias. When US President Donald Trump got banned back in January for what Twitter called a “risk of further incitement of violence”, Musk called it “foolish”. He said he was buying Twitter because he wants "civilization to have a digital town square" and plans on using the platform to preserve free speech. Additionally, he plans to clean up spam accounts. After reinstating several previously suspended accounts (including that of Trump's), he tweeted a poll asking users if Twitter should provide a general amnesty to accounts "that have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam”. In response to upset people fearing for the future of Twitter, Musk tweeted that Twitter “obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences”. 

However, it is still uncertain how Musk's takeover and proposed policy changes will be received around the world. For example, Thierry Breton the EU Commissioner for the Internal Market tweeted "In Europe, the bird will fly by our EU rules" suggesting regulators will take a tough stance against any relaxation of Twitter's policies. Apart from these changes, Musk also has bigger long-term plans for Twitter's future. He has hinted at plans for his new company to become the “app for everything”, similar to China’s super app ‘WeChat’. Such an app would be the go-to place for most digital activities, including social media, messaging, finance, food orders and more. The West does not have anything like this yet, so this is a possible market Musk may be trying to get into. Another possibility, since Musk is known to be a huge fan of cryptocurrency, would be the acceptance of cryptocurrency as a payment method by businesses through Twitter. Musk's company Tesla has already been accepting the cryptocurrency Dogecoin for some time now and has also been experimenting with Bitcoin. Whatever happens, we can definitely expect some big changes in Twitter from the visionary, volatile, ambitious, and creative Musk. 

Now, almost a month after Musk became the head of Twitter, nearly half of the employees have been laid off. Most of the former executives are either fired or left and entire chains of management within divisions of Twitter are gone. After Musk became CEO he sent out an ultimatum to all Twitter employees: either have an “extremely hardcore” work ethic with long hours at high intensity or leave with a three-month severance. This is not a new phenomenon for the hardworking CEO, as Musk has previously asked Tesla workers to “go super hardcore” to meet targets. As a result, many Twitter employees are outraged and have started a class-action lawsuit claiming they had not been given enough notice under US federal law that they had lost their jobs. Another ongoing concern for Musk, is a statement by the NAACP’s president and CEO, urging companies to pause ads on the platform and since then, there has been a massive drop in revenue. Twitter has lost 50 of its top 100 advertisers since Musk became CEO. 

Was Elon Musk wise to purchase Twitter? Only time will tell. One thing is certain, the success of Twitter will be heavily influenced by ongoing and future comprehensive social and technological changes, such as increased polarisation. With political extremists returning to the platform and most administrative functions limited due to a lack of employees, this is a highly uncertain time for Twitter. If Musk manages to successfully reconstruct the company it is likely we will see revolutionary changes. But rest assured, in a tweet Musk promises us that he did not buy the firm "to make more money” but to “try to help humanity”. The coming months will be pivotal for determining whether Musk will be able to achieve either.

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