Elon Musk owns Twitter now — and what happens next is anyone's guess
Elon Musk completed his $44-billion US acquisition of Twitter late on Thursday and almost immediately fired the company's leadership team.
The head of electric car maker Tesla first proposed buying the social media company in April under the guise of ensuring free speech, but the journey to consummate the deal since then has been rocky.
He tried to back out of the purchase on the premise that he had been misled, before court proceedings compelled him to go ahead with it.
After a series of tweets on Wednesday and Thursday suggesting the deal was done, it became official on Thursday evening.
Within hours, he had fired CEO Parag Agrawal, head of legal Vijaya Gadde, chief financial officer Ned Segal and others. Agrawal and Segal were in Twitter's San Francisco headquarters when the deal closed and were escorted out of the building.
Segal confirmed his dismissal in a series of tweets on Friday, but none of the other former executives have spoken publicly yet.
Reports suggest Musk has installed himself as CEO, but he has yet to confirm that.
Stock to be delisted
In an open letter to users and advertisers Thursday, Musk said he bought the company 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."
But "Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said without consequences," he added.
In the afternoon on Friday, Musk tweeted that he planned to form "a content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints" to help guide the company's policies on free speech, stressing that no "major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before that council convenes"
But he offered no concrete details on when that might happen, or who might be on it.
Paul Knox, a professor emeritus at the Centre for Free Expression at Toronto Metropolitan University, says the biggest challenge facing Musk will be to level the playing field among voices on the platform.
"Some voices have more economic power and more technical capacity to elevate themselves over others," he told CBC News in an interview Friday. "So when you say that you want to promote free speech, and [maximize] freedom of expression, you have to take into account those factors."
Musk paints himself as a defender of free speech, but Knox says Twitter isn't designed to be the free exchange of ideas he says it is and wants it to be.
"These algorithms boost the wrong kind of speech because the platforms are not simply there for the purpose of having people talk to one another. They're there for the purpose of making money — of promoting products, of selling audiences to advertisers," he said. "They're not constructed to promote rational debate."
What happens now is far from clear, but one thing that has already happened is the company's shares have been suspended from trading on the New York Stock Exchange. They will be formally delisted on Nov. 8, the exchange said on Friday. The shares closed on Thursday valued at $53.86, a slight discount to the $54.20 that Musk had agreed to pay for them.
Speculation about Musk's long-term interest
In addition to his proclamations about free speech, there is speculation that Musk plans to eventually resell the company one day and make it public again. A report this week suggested he planned to fire three quarters of the company's 7,500 staff.
"Employees are already worried about massive layoffs." said Jasmine Enberg, an analyst with Insider Intelligence. "A Musk-owned Twitter is likely going to result in even more chaos."
WATCH | What happens next now that Musk owns Twitter:
Kate Klonick, an associate professor at St. John's Law School, says that we can learn a lot about Musk's plans for the company by noting what sections of the business he's cutting staff from.
"The layoffs are likely going to be among people that do a lot of the trust and safety engineering work at the company, that maintain the content moderation systems that have made Twitter a more manageable space," she told CBC News in an interview.
Firing the company's well-respected top lawyer is particularly head-scratching, she said.
"It's not completely clear, and especially as he just fired his head of legal, that he's going to have a good idea if he's necessarily effectively complying with the laws that Twitter is mandated to comply with."
In his letter, Musk says he didn't buy the company to make money. Instead he says he sees Twitter as a foundation for creating a "super app" that offers everything from money transfers to shopping and ride hailing.
Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences! - Elon Musk in open letter to Twitter advertisers
"The long-term potential for Twitter in my view is an order of magnitude greater than its current value," Musk said on Tesla's call with analysts on Oct. 19.
But Twitter is struggling to engage its most active users who are vital to the business. These "heavy tweeters" account for less than 10 per cent of monthly overall users but generate 90 per cent of all tweets and half of global revenue.
Prior to saying that no decisions would be made about account reinstatements until his content council was former, Musk said he would reverse the ban on Donald Trump, who was removed after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, although the former U.S. president has said he won't return to the platform.
Trump has instead launched his own social media app, Truth Social. In a posting on the platform on Friday, Trump said "I am very happy that Twitter is now in sane hands. "Twitter must now work hard to rid itself of all of the bots and fake accounts that have hurt it so badly. It will be much smaller, but better."
Klonick says she's concerned what the return of people like Trump to the "public square" Musk claims to be trying to preserve might mean.
"I'm worried about places where there is really high risk of authoritarian movements right now," she said, noting that the U.S. midterm elections get underway in less than a month.
"Re-platforming some of the worst members of society that have those authoritarian voices [will help] their ability to find each other, to create violence, to challenge the rule of law."