On Oct. 27, Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter was officially completed. He would now assume the role of owner and CEO for the social media company’s foreseeable future. He quickly got to work, changing a number of things about the platform itself, sparking and reigniting conversation about Twitter’s role in our political discourse.
Billionaires controlling media corporations is not something new with Musk. Jack Dorsey, the original owner, is a billionaire, and Mark Zuckerberg still rules over Meta and its subjects like Instagram and Whatsapp. Jeff Bezos even faced controversy a few years ago due to his purchase of the Washington Post. This trend has a number of people worried about the quality of information we can get out of these platforms. However, Prof. Katherine Bolton-Wanrooy, a visiting professor of communications at Hope College, says that accountability ultimately “falls on the consumer.” She says, “If we’re just going to be spoon-fed media, if we’re not going to break things down from an analytical standpoint, then it’s on us as the media consumer.” This is especially true when billionaires have motivations that run counter to presenting unbiased information. The purchase of Twitter in particular was seen by many to be motivated by more reasons than just finance, as Musk has been known to complain about Twitter’s User Interface and the problem with censorship, as well as being the poster boy for a certain type of Libertarian. Expectedly, he has implemented a number of changes in these areas.
One major change on Twitter’s backend was the elimination of over 3,700 employment positions. This was coupled with a demand that employees work longer hours. According to Twitter employees who interviewed with CNBC, they have been asked to work “12-hour shifts, seven days a week” in order to meet deadlines. However, this is likely a temporary change during the acquisition. Interestingly, Musk has brought in a number of employees from his Tesla autopilot development team to watch over this process of firing and keeping employees. At least 50 of them are directly involved in the process. Another one of these personnel changes is the end of remote work. With a few exceptions, all employees will be required to spend their 40 hours in the office. This is similar to a change he made at Tesla after the pandemic, saying that employees were “required to spend a minimum of 40 hours in the office per week. If you don’t show up, we will assume you have resigned.”
On the other side of the screen, users are also experiencing changes to their personal Twitter experience. One of the most obvious effects for verified users is the new subscription service. Users will now have the option of paying eight dollars a month for a verification, which would make their account easier to find in searches and boost their visibility across the site as a whole. This has obviously angered a number of people who were already verified, as their “free trial” will soon expire and they’ll be forced to pay for a privilege they’ve enjoyed for a long time. However, this will allow a greater diversity of opinions to reach more people, as the famous and influential no longer have a total monopoly over that blue check.
Likely the most noteworthy change is in regard to the content moderation policy. A number of conservatives see Elon Musk’s purchase as a reversal in Twitter’s traditionally anti-conservative stance. While this may be an overstatement of bias, Musk has described himself as a “free speech absolutist” regarding social media, and this could translate to fewer bans and deleted tweets from those who normally would violate Twitter’s Terms of Service. However, now that he has officially taken over, Musk seems to have a much more nuanced view of free speech online. He has stated that he is assembling a team to devise a new method of content moderation and that no major changes will take place until this happens. He said it will likely take at least “a few more weeks” before anything is announced.
Of course, a few content changes have already taken place without the new committee. Kanye West, a rapper whose account was banned over antisemitism, had his account reinstated almost immediately after Musk took over. Musk has also expressed the desire to invite former president Donald Trump back to Twitter, even though Trump has explicitly said that he doesn’t want to and would rather develop his social media app: Truth Social.
On the less controversial side of things, Elon Musk has also announced the development of a new paywall feature, where users are able to post Pay-Per-View content on the platform. He also ran a poll on his personal account asking users if they would like him to bring back Vine, an app for six-second comedy videos, with 70% of respondents selecting “Yes.” He has now instructed software engineers to start work on the next Vine, which is supposed to be ready by the end of the year.
Ultimately, it’s anyone’s guess as to the effects the purchase will have. Elon Musk is a businessman, so he will likely do what will make the most money. Professor Bolton-Wanrooy says that “[Musk] has created extraordinarily good business in his life from a business perspective, however, I don’t know if that would transcend into making good decisions for the general public.” One thing is for sure, Twitter is more than a private business. Whether we like it or not, what happens with Twitter has real effects on the general public.