Elon Musk and the Radicalization of Twitter
Elon Musk, at one point the world’s wealthiest man, and the founder of Tesla, SpaceX, and The Boring Company, bought out Twitter for roughly $44 billion on October 27, 2022. He did so with the assumed intention that the platform would someday become a “Public Town Square” where people can freely speak their minds without extreme monitoring. This goes along with his absolutist views on freedom of speech and previous criticisms of the platform’s guidelines surrounding discrimination, hate speech, and online abuse. Not only did Musk plan to radicalize Twitter regarding free speech, but within his first ten days as CEO, he made drastic changes within the company, reshaping the future of an app that symbolizes technological and social innovation. These changes left many without jobs and sparked turmoil within the company’s walls as well as on the platform itself.
When Musk first entered the company on October 26, he walked into Twitter’s office headquarters with a sink in hand, later tweeting a picture displaying his act along with the statement, “Let it sink in.” This was in reference to the opposition that he received for taking over the company, representing the message that people should let it “sink in” and that he would now be in power as the CEO of Twitter. His stunt marked the beginning of a whirlwind of systematic change to the company, foreshadowed by Musk’s previous criticisms of the platform. He questioned the management of Twitter itself and claimed at one point that Twitter’s statistics on how many of its accounts were bots were much higher.
His ascension to the role of CEO was marked by the execution of his plans to fire over 50 percent of Twitter’s approximately 7,500 workers. This included firing Twitter’s chief executive Parag Agrawal, financial officer Ned Segal, legal policy executive Vijaya Gadde, and the general counsel Sean Edgett. These individuals were replaced with a board of advisers including venture capitalists David Sacks, Jason Calacanis, and Sriram Krishnan, as well as Musk’s personal lawyer Alex Spiro, financial manager Jared Birchall, former Tesla director Antonio Garcias, and other engineers from Tesla, Neuralink, and The Boring Company. In addition, in Twitter’s infrastructural organization branch, almost 80 percent of its engineering staff was laid off. All of this was done in “an effort to place Twitter on a healthy path,” according to an email sent to employees explaining future mass layoffs. However, Musk’s attempt to cleanse Twitter of who he thought was unfit for the job brought an air of uncertainty and disillusionment to both company and the platform.
These recent changes have sparked growing issues within Twitter, ranging from unhappy workers, lack of staff, and malfunctioning systems. For example, a server overheated in one of Twitter’s New York offices, and the office went without internet. Struggles like this forced the company’s advisers to hire back some of those they had recently laid off. However, some individuals refused to go back, while others returned to faulty systems and could not continue their previous work. Twitter also received a warning from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about a failure to meet specific privacy laws and regulations. Despite these warnings, Musk is seemingly prepared to fight against the FTC: aforementioned lawyer Alex Spiro states that “Elon puts rockets into space- he’s not afraid of the FTC.”
These FTC violations came about when Musk quickly changed certain aspects of the Twitter app. The most notable change occurred when Musk ordered engineers to change the blue verification check mark next to influencers with many followers - like politicians and celebrities - to a gray one. Along with this, Musk created a way in which people could “subscribe” for a verification check mark of their own for just $8. This change was implemented to change the platform's revenue-making strategies from outer brand advertisement to a subscription service.
Unfortunately, this led to an onslaught of fake accounts appearing on Twitter claiming to be Tony Blair and Donald Trump, and could violate certain FTC laws. This furthered the uncertainty of the platform’s future and created an uproar from both the left and the right. Musk’s actions have raised questions about the extent to which wealthy individuals and corporations have control and power over the public and the government. With a willingness to risk FTC violation fines, a stirring of political divisiveness, and the ability to reshape a company's inner workings completely, Elon Musk seems to represent a new kind of power within America’s political sphere, one devoid of politicians and fostered by powerful, wealthy men in search of a new kind of technological innovation.