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The future of Twitter under Elon Musk

The new boss of the social media giant has big plans for Twitter 2.0 – but what are they?

When Elon Musk first announced his interest in Twitter back in April, few people could have imagined the rollercoaster ride that has since ensued. Over the best part of eight months, Musk has toyed with not buying the company and walking away from the deal, then being compelled to purchase it at a price of $44 billion – around 30% higher than the stock was trading at when he made his offer.

Many have called the purchase, which came after a court case was lodged that, if he lost, would have required him to do so anyway, a bad deal. But Twitter – which Musk called a vital public square of opinion – is the entrepreneur’s world now, and we all have to live in it.

What the future of Twitter looks like is beginning to take shape, albeit a shape that repeatedly shifts as the mercurial SpaceX founder and Tesla CEO decides to change his mind on a whim. For some, it’s a bold new future. Others are dreading it.

What we know

Musk has said throughout his takeover bid that he is a “free speech maximalist”, and some of his early decisions have suggested that’s the case. He put the return of Donald Trump to Twitter to the public vote, and the public – or possibly bots – decided that he could return. Likewise, he has brought back several accounts that were previously banned from the platform to Twitter, including The Babylon Bee, a right-wing satire publication.

Those shifts in what is acceptable speech and what isn’t has had the expected effect: hate speech has skyrocketed, even as Musk professes that impressions (or views) on it have decreased. Musk has said that he’s cracked down on the spread of images of child abuse, though the reality is that he has routed the team of specialists that deals with that, and experts say that simply banning hashtags doesn’t have a huge effect.

Similarly, rules around disinformation have become more lax. In late November, the company quietly ditched its covid disinformation policy, potentially causing a free-for-all of claims around the coronavirus which could harm public health. This has been exacerbated by a huge decrease in the number of staff handling these issues: Musk fired half of Twitter’s 7,500 employees on his first week in the job, then four-fifths of his contractors the next week, and imposed working conditions so strict that more than 1,000 more left of their own will the week after.

How to make Twitter work

Alongside his plans to retrench the idea of free speech on the platform, Musk also saw Twitter as a takeover opportunity in order to better run the business and turn a profit. The company has historically struggled to make any money, and Musk has grand plans to try and turn that around and make it a going concern.

One of the keystones of his Twitter 2.0 shift is that he plans to move away from an ad-supported business model to a subscription-based one. Twitter Blue, his plans to make users pay for accessing Twitter, has been repeatedly delayed, while staff who worked at Twitter before Musk’s takeover say that the plan for the business wouldn’t work.

Those claims suggest that many of the functionalities that Musk believes could be the savior of Twitter have already been tested with users in surveys, and the response was largely negative to it. If that’s the case – and leaked data suggests that in the initial phases of Twitter Blue’s launch, before it was withdrawn, comparatively few users decided to pay for access to the platform – then Musk’s big goals for Twitter may be more pie in the sky than grounded in reality.

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