Finance Finance News Four questions Elon Musk needs to answer following his Twitter takeover

Four questions Elon Musk needs to answer following his Twitter takeover

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The richest man in the world has bought one of the world’s largest social media platforms in a deal worth $US44 billion ($61 billion).

So what happens next?

Elon Musk insists he is committed to ensuring that Twitter adheres to the principles of free speech so that the platform can perform its role as the “de facto public town square”.

But what will that look like in practice? And could some of his plans backfire?

Here are four questions Mr Musk has yet to answer.

1. What will happen to the current Twitter leadership?

Twitter’s board members were the biggest stumbling block to Mr Musk’s attempts to buy the company.

They took their time to consider his offer and installed a “poison pill” defence in case he tried to force a takeover.

Consequently, Griffith University senior lecturer David Tuffley said they would likely now be thrown to the kerb, as Mr Musk has previously shown his distaste for the board’s hefty pay packets.

On April 19, in response to a Twitter thread that pointed out board members earn up to $US300,000 ($416,000) per year for what amounts to a “nice part-time job”, Mr Musk tweeted that their salary would hit $0 if his bid succeeded.

But the fate of Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, who has only held the position since November, is less clear.

Dr Tuffley said Mr Musk will be looking to leave Twitter’s everyday operations in the hands of a proxy “fully on board” with his vision, and if Mr Agrawal doesn’t meet that brief, he will likely lose his job.

“[Musk has] achieved an awful lot with his various projects, and one reason for that is that he is very good at hiring the right people,” Dr Tuffley said.

2. Will Donald Trump and other banned figures be invited back onto the platform?

The short answer is: Maybe.

Mr Musk says he is committed to free speech, but allowing former US president Donald Trump to return to the platform could spark a fierce backlash, Dr Tuffley said.

Mr Trump received a permanent ban from the social media platform in January 2021 “due to the risk of further incitement of violence“.

The twice-impeached president said he won’t come back to the platform if invited, as he is committed to his own social media platform called Truth.

But Mr Musk said in a recent TED interview that he’s against permanent Twitter bans and preferred a ‘time-out’ option instead, which leaves the door open for Trump’s return.

Mr Musk said people should “be able to speak freely within the bounds of the law”.

3. What will free speech on Twitter look like?

Queensland University of Technology professor Jean Burgess said although Mr Musk has a “libertarian” approach to free speech he will have to comply with various regulations.

Fellow social media giant Facebook has been plagued by complaints and legal action due to its at-times lax approach to content moderation.

Critics say Facebook’s algorithms and failure to take down inflammatory posts played a significant part in helping Mr Trump win the 2016 US election and played a part in the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

As a result, international governments are cracking down on social media platforms.

On Saturday, the European Union launched the Digital Services Act, which will force tech companies to more closely monitor hate speech, disinformation and other harmful online content.

“There’s just a tsunami of regulatory moves coming that will make it impossible to run an unregulated speech platform of the size, influence and scope that Twitter has,” Dr Burgess said.

“The idea of an unregulated platform at global scale is pure fantasy.”

Dr Tuffley said Mr Musk will strive to give a balanced platform for left- and right-wing views, but will still block “extreme” hate speech from both sides.

In his TED interview, Mr Musk acknowledged Twitter has an “obligation” to abide by the laws of the countries in which it operates, including limits on free speech.

Mr Musk said although the platform should block or delete posts that incite violence, if a tweet sits in a “grey area”, it should be allowed to exist.

“It’s damn annoying when someone you don’t like says something you don’t like [but] that is a sign of a healthy, functioning free-speech situation,” he said.

4. What does Mr Musk stand to gain?

Twitter has about 330 million users, and the ad-supported platform has a relatively low income of about $US3.7 billion ($5.1 billion) a year.

But Dr Tuffley said Mr Musk bought Twitter for the audience it provides rather than to make huge profits.

There is speculation that Mr Musk may introduce a subscriber model to the platform – where users could pay for a blue tick or other premium features – but Dr Burgess agreed with Dr Tuffley that profits wouldn’t be the main motivation for Mr Musk to buy Twitter.

“I’m not entirely sure that he cares whether Twitter becomes profitable, so much as he cares about gaining sole control of a really important platform for public communication that is vitally important to his own business and his own interests,” she said.

“Communication is power in a knowledge-driven economy, such as the digital economy that he primarily operates in.”

Mr Musk, who provides constant updates on his various business ventures to his 84 million Twitter followers, has also denied his takeover of Twitter is a money-making manoeuvre.

“My strong intuitive sense is that having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important to the future of civilisation,” he said.

“I don’t care about the economics at all.”