Analysis: Elon Musk’s first week as Twitter's 'chief twit'

One of the world’s richest and most eccentric personalities has completed his first week as "chief twit".

And what a week it’s been – change has come thick and fast. But some warn that might have unintended consequences for one the biggest social media platforms.

Twitter boasts about 240 million active users and has dozens of offices around the world. It is a hotbed for debate - often political - with all the good and bad that comes with that.

Tesla founder and chief executive Elon Musk has been making comments for some time on the issue of free speech, describing himself as a "free speech absolutist" and has been highly critical of the actions of platforms like Twitter for controlling what can be said.

It came after some high-profile bans on Twitter – including former president Donald Trump.

When making noise about buying the social media giant Musk signalled some big changes were needed.

After closing the deal for a princely US$44 billion (and a lengthy lawsuit after Musk made moves to dump the deal), he turned up for his first day at Twitter HQ carrying a sink – an actual sink.

But the mass exodus had already begun. As of today, the casualties include the chief executive officer, the chief financial officer, the chief customer officer, the chief marketing officer and the chief people and diversity officer.

And the entire board of directors.

He’s also brought in a team from Tesla, and it’s been reported that engineers are having to have their code reviewed.

"There seems to be 10 people 'managing' for every one-person coding," Musk tweeted.

How free can free speech be?

Another immediate issue for the new management was just how free they wanted people's free speech to be. It became an immediate issue as there was a surge of "hateful conduct" in the days following Musk taking over.

That information came directly from Twitter’s own head of safety and integrity Yoel Roth.

"Since Saturday, we've been focused on addressing the surge in hateful conduct on Twitter," he said.

"We’ve made measurable progress, removing more than 1500 accounts and reducing impressions on this content to nearly zero."

But as a result of this, and the other changes, advertisers are nervous. Some are reported to have suspended ads, including General Motors (who is also, to be fair, a competitor to Tesla).

"We are engaging with Twitter to understand the direction of the platform under their new ownership. As is normal course of business with a significant change in a media platform, we have temporarily paused our paid advertising. Our customer care interactions on Twitter will continue," the company said in a statement to CNBC.

The big fears seem to be around the content that might be allowed to spread on Twitter under the leadership of the "free speech absolutist", despite Musk tweeting he wants a "content moderation council".

Musk had also expressed his dislike of advertising in general – simply tweeting a while back "I hate advertising".

Unfortunately for the billionaire about 90% of Twitter's revenue comes from ads.

Musk wrote an open letter directly to advertisers addressing concerns.

"There has been much speculation about why I bought Twitter and what I think about advertising," he wrote.

"Most of it has been wrong.

"The reason I acquired Twitter is because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence.

"There is currently great danger that social media will splinter into far-right wing and far left-wing echo chambers that generate more hate and divide our society.

"In the relentless pursuit of clicks much of traditional media has fuelled and catered to those polarised extremes, as they believe that is what brings in the money, but in doing so, the opportunity for dialogue is lost."

The post continued.

"That said, Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences... our platform must be warm and welcoming for all," he added.

"Twitter aspires to be the most respected advertising platform in the world... let us build something extraordinary together."

Monetising the blue tick

But Musk seems to already be making moves to create a new revenue stream - monetising the blue tick.

Currently blue tick verification is available for free to public figures, celebrities, politicians, journalists (including this one) and others, to prove accounts are reliable.

That now might cost some money.

"Twitter’s current lord & peasants system for who has or doesn’t have a blue checkmark is bullshit," he tweeted.

"Power to the people! Blue for $8/month.

"This will also give Twitter a revenue stream to reward content creators."

To put it kindly, feedback has been mixed.

Among the other changes has also been a new Twitter home page – and a new chief executive - Musk himself.

He’s also CEO of four other companies, including Tesla and Space X.

So, what does this rollercoaster ride of a week mean for Twitter in the long run?

"He definitely wants to bring change, but exactly how that change plays out – whether we like it or not – is kind of hard to know," tech commentator and futurist Paul Spain told 1News.

The number of changes that have been made in one week had been impressive, he said.

"If this is all that’s happened in one week... where things are going to be in a month or 12 months is really any body’s guess."

Spain also pointed out that despite leading several other companies, none of them are a social media giant and none of them make money from advertising.

"He’s bought a business that relies on advertising but when you look at his other business they don’t advertise," he said.

The fee for a blue tick was clearly one of his first moves to diversify that income stream, he said.

"Of course, he’s looking for some alternative mechanisms to generate some income.... I’m really not convinced it is a good approach."

But he said risk was obvious if that approach turned out to be the wrong one.

"While he may have been successful in many other business endeavours, this is a completely new space to play and if he upsets the community then potentially everybody – or a large percent of people – walk.

"He’s just such an unpredictable character," Spain said.

"Just having him head up Twitter will have challenges, but it might go well and in a few years' time we might all be on Twitter all the time."

Future of civilisation?

So, will Twitter be the "future of civilisation" Musk sees it as?

Many people seem to think so.

But in a tweet British writer George Monbiot summed up an equally popular view...

"Forgive my scepticism, but I'm beginning to get an inkling of suspicion that Elon Musk hasn't the faintest idea what he's doing."

Time will tell.


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