Twitter Inc. will form a content-moderation council that includes “widely diverse viewpoints,” and big decisions on content and account reinstatements are on hold until the group is convened, new owner Elon Musk said, addressing speculation that he might restore banned users to the social network immediately.
Musk, whose $44 billion deal to take the social network private was completed Thursday, had indicated previously that he thought Twitter’s content moderation standards were too strict and that he didn’t believe in lifetime bans. Users and advertisers are waiting to see if the new owner’s views mean that high-profile personalities who were blocked from the site, including former US President Donald Trump, will be allowed back on. Musk’s tweet on Friday indicates that no reinstatements are imminent.
In most other ways, the billionaire wasted no time taking complete control. Musk appointed himself chief executive officer, dismissed senior management and immediately began reshaping strategy at one of the world’s most influential social media platforms.
Musk, 51, is replacing Parag Agrawal, who was fired along with three other top executives, a person familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified discussing internal deliberations. The mercurial entrepreneur, who also leads Tesla Inc. and SpaceX, may eventually cede the Twitter CEO role in the longer term, the person added. Twitter representatives declined to comment.
Musk’s acquisition puts the world’s richest man in charge of a struggling social network after six months of public and legal wrangling. Among Musk’s first moves: changing the leadership. Departures include Vijaya Gadde, the head of legal, policy and trust; Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal, who joined Twitter in 2017; and Sean Edgett, who has been general counsel at Twitter since 2012. Edgett was escorted out of the building, Bloomberg News reported.
Musk intends to do away with permanent bans on users because he doesn’t believe in lifelong prohibitions, the person said.
Twitter banned Trump days after the 2021 Capitol insurrection, citing the “risk of further incitement of violence.” With the former president widely expected to make another run for the White House in 2024, a return to Twitter could grant him an opportunity to turbocharge his message.
In response to a Twitter user complaining about being “shadowbanned, ghostbanned, searchbanned,” as well as having followers removed, Musk said in a tweet on Friday that he will be “digging in more today.”
But the same day, he also tweeted that major decisions about restoring banned accounts won’t happen ahead of the formation of the new council. San Francisco-based Twitter already convenes a group of outside experts that advises the company on content moderation, called the Trust and Safety Council.
The takeover caps a convoluted saga that began in January with the billionaire’s quiet accumulation of a major stake in the company, his growing exasperation with how it was run and an eventual merger accord that he later spent months trying to unravel. Musk’s buyout marks the end of nine years of public trading. Twitter debuted with a bang on the New York Stock Exchange in 2013 but failed to match the rocket ride achieved by some other tech heavyweights.
The change in leadership will bring immediate disruption to Twitter’s operations, in part because many of Musk’s ideas for how to change the company are at odds with how it has been run for years. He’s said he wants to ensure “free speech” on the social network.
More broadly, Musk’s initiatives threaten to undo years of Twitter’s efforts to reduce bullying and abuse on the platform.
The prospect of less restrictive content moderation under Musk’s leadership has prompted concerns that dialogue on the social network will deteriorate, eroding years of efforts by the company and its “trust and safety” team to limit offensive or dangerous posts. On Thursday, Musk posted a note to advertisers seeking to reassure them he doesn’t want Twitter to become a “free-for-all hellscape.”
Still, overnight and into Friday, racist slurs, antisemitic speech and memes directing hate at various underrepresented groups poured forth on the platform, egged on and organized by far-right message boards such as The Donald and on messaging apps like Telegram and on internet forums like 4chan.
As the Oct. 28 deadline neared, Musk began putting his stamp on the company, posting a video of himself walking into the headquarters and changing his profile descriptor on the platform he now owns to “Chief Twit.”
He arranged meetings between Tesla engineers and product leadership at Twitter. Twitter’s engineers could no longer make changes to code as of noon Thursday in San Francisco, part of an effort to ensure that nothing about the product changed ahead of the deal closing, the people familiar with the matter said.
On Friday, Twitter engineers were being invited to meetings to pair up with Tesla engineers to review the social network’s code, a person familiar with the matter said. In some cases, the meetings can be 20 people or so, and Twitter engineers are being asked to bring paper printouts of their source code from last 30 days to show the Tesla engineers.
Twitter employees, meanwhile, have been bracing for layoffs since the transaction was announced in April, and Musk floated the idea of cost cuts to banking partners when he was initially fundraising for the deal. Some potential investors were told Musk plans to cut 75% of Twitter’s workforce, which now numbers about 7,500, and expects to double revenue within three years, a person familiar with the matter said earlier this month.
While visiting Twitter headquarters on Wednesday, Musk told employees that he didn’t plan to cut 75% of the staff when he takes over the company, according to people familiar with the matter.
The past six months have been challenging for Twitter employees, who have primarily followed the ups and downs of the roller-coaster deal through the news headlines.
Many have been unhappy with Musk’s involvement and some have questioned his qualifications to run a social networking company. His support of a far-right political candidate in Texas, plus sexual harassment accusations from a former SpaceX flight attendant in May, have raised additional concerns. During a video Q&A with Musk in June, some employees mocked Musk on internal Slack channels. Others have ridiculed or chided him publicly on Twitter throughout the deal process.