Twitter’s new “Chief Twit” spent the weekend tweeting — and it’s still not any clearer what Elon Musk will do with his new company.
Musk posted more than 20 times Saturday and Sunday, offering mostly conflicting signals. He denied a report from The New York Times that he planned to make major layoffs Monday ahead of a date when many Twitter employees receive stock grants. But he also seemed to embrace at least one tweet that implied Twitter employed too many people, or at least too many people without the right skill set.
“There seem to be 10 people ‘managing’ for every one person coding,” he noted in a reply to @spideycyp_155, a self-proclaimed “Die hard fan of Elon Musk.”
Musk did reassure LeBron James after he expressed concerns about an uptick of racial slurs on the platform, retweeting Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of safety and integrity. That has been among Musk’s most significant votes of confidence for the company’s current moderation team, the head of which was reportedly fired Friday. Later Sunday night, he posted what appeared to be internal communications from Roth indicating that information about fake accounts had been kept from him that would have been relevant to his efforts to scuttle the Twitter deal. At the same time, he also continued to imply that the current moderation efforts had become biased or overzealous.
Perhaps related, and most notably this weekend, Musk tweeted and deleted a response to Hillary Clinton that included a link to a known conspiracy website that made unsubstantiated claims about the attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. He also tweeted a cartoon that is colloquially known on the internet as a “dickbutt.”
It was a weekend that highlighted just how unpredictable and contradictory Musk can be.
Musk’s plans for the 238 million-daily-user platform will have a sizable impact on speech on the internet — especially political speech — at a time of deep polarization in the U.S. Although it has a far smaller number of users than some of its competitors, its influence is outsized.
Musk’s deal to buy Twitter was finalized Thursday, ending a lengthy and contentious battle in which he tried to back out of the deal and made a variety of disparaging comments about Twitter. Musk at various times promised to cut staff and change moderation practices.
But with few legal options to stop the deal, Musk in recent weeks began to change his tune, most notably tweeting Thursday that advertisers did not need to worry about the platform’s becoming “a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences.” Along with a tweet Friday in which Musk said he planned to start a council at Twitter to decide on moderation issues, the overture to advertisers offered clear evidence that sudden and wide-reaching moves relaxing Twitter rules may not be forthcoming.
That does not mean they are off the table. Musk has surrounded himself with Silicon Valley veterans, some of whom have criticized Twitter’s moderation work. Venture capitalists Jason Calacanis and Sriram Krishnan both tweeted over the weekend that they were involved. Calacanis tweeted over the weekend that Twitter will be “laser-focused on identity and safety in the coming weeks,” including a “very comprehensive plan to reduce the number of (and visibility of) bots, spammers, & bad actors on the platform.”
Moderation is the highest-profile and most hotly debated part of Musk’s Twitter plans, but it may not be the most pressing. Dan Ives, a managing director and senior equity research analyst covering the technology sector at the investment firm Wedbush Securities, wrote in a note Friday that he sees the acquisition “as one of the most overpaid tech acquisitions in the history of M&A deals on the Street in our opinion.”
That means Musk may need to spend more of his time focused on increasing revenue and limiting costs instead of making moves that could alienate users and advertisers — one of which could be turning Twitter into a broader app with features such as payments, which Musk has dubbed “X.”
“Musk took over Twitter last night and now major questions will remain around changes to the platform, monetization efforts, the level of headcount cuts on the horizon, and the long term strategy around the ‘X’ App and building a potential WeChat model down the road,” Ives wrote. “Musk now adds Twitter to his Tesla, SpaceX, and broader Elon ecosystem. Our price target is the deal price at $54.20.”
Whether Musk will focus on that is an open question. He continued tweeting Sunday night, responding with a crying emoji after ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel called him “a fully-formed piece of s---” in response to Musk’s tweet about Clinton. Later, he appeared to poke fun at his deleted tweet while also taking a swipe at The New York Times.
“This is fake — I did *not* tweet out a link to The New York Times!” Musk wrote alongside a screenshot of the Times’ coverage of his deleted tweet.