Elon Musk pits free speech against 'hell' on Twitter

Elon Musk pits free speech against ‘hell’ on Twitter

Oct 28 (Reuters) – Just hours after Elon Musk ushered in a new era at Twitter Inc, the billionaire owner has been overwhelmed with calls and demands from banned account holders and world leaders.

The flood of requests underscores the challenge the CEO of electric car maker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) faces, balancing a promise to restore free speech while preventing the platform from descending into a ‘hellscape’ , as he had sworn in an open letter to advertisers on Thursday.

Former US President Donald Trump, who was permanently banned from Twitter on charges of inciting violence following the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riots, welcomed the takeover but said little about a return to Twitter. “I’m very happy that Twitter is now in good hands and no longer run by crazies and radical left maniacs who really hate our country.” Read more

Dmitry Medvedev, former Russian President and current Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council, tweeted his congratulations: “Good luck @elonmusk overcoming political bias and ideological dictatorship on Twitter. And quit this Starlink business in Ukraine.”

Others have called on Musk to reverse the sanctions imposed by the social media platform. Responding to @catturd2, an anonymous account with 852,000 followers known to be a big supporter of Trump voter fraud allegations, and who said he was “shadowbanned”, Musk tweeted “I will dig deeper today”.

Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the Russian public television channel RT, asked Musk to “unban RT and Sputnik accounts and also remove ban from shadow of mine?”

Pressure is mounting on Musk and Twitter as he prepares to address Twitter staff on Friday after the deal closes.

“Hey @ElonMusk, now that you own Twitter, will you help fight Trudeau’s Bill C-11 online censorship?” tweeted Canada Proud, an organization working to vote against Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“First I heard,” Musk replied in a tweet on Friday.


Several employees who spoke to Reuters on Friday said there had been no communication from management about what would happen next.

Musk was scheduled to speak to employees on Friday, but employees said they had received no notification by late afternoon.

Two sources familiar with the matter said Musk’s teams are investigating Twitter’s code and asking questions about how certain aspects of the platform work.

Musk appears to have joined the company’s Slack channel on Friday, according to a screenshot seen by Reuters.

Musk also tweeted on Friday that Twitter would form a “content moderation council with widely diverse views” and that no major decisions on moderation or reinstatement of accounts will be made until it is convened.

Despite an appeal to advertisers on Thursday that it hoped to make Twitter “the most respected advertising platform in the world”, at least one major automaker – GM (GM.N) – said it had temporarily suspended advertising and was working to “understand the direction of the platform under their new ownership.”

Employees also continued to worry about the future of their jobs. Less than 10% of the 266 Twitter employees who took part in a survey of messaging app Blind expected to still have their jobs in three months. Blind allows employees to report complaints anonymously after signing up with company emails.

Musk has fired Twitter chief executive Parag Agrawal, chief financial officer Ned Segal and chief legal and policy officer Vijaya Gadde, according to people familiar with the matter. He had accused them of misleading him and Twitter investors about the number of fake accounts on the platform.

Agrawal and Segal were at Twitter headquarters in San Francisco when the deal was struck and were being escorted out, the sources added.

Musk, who also heads rocket company SpaceX, plans to become Twitter’s interim CEO, according to a person familiar with the matter and following an earlier Reuters report. Musk also plans to remove permanent user bans, Bloomberg said, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Twitter, Musk and executives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


Before closing the deal, Musk walked into Twitter headquarters on Wednesday with a big smile and a porcelain sink, then tweeting “let this sink in.” He changed his Twitter profile description to “Chief Twit”.

European regulators also reiterated past warnings that, under Musk’s leadership, Twitter must still abide by the region’s Digital Services Act, which imposes stiff fines on companies if they fail to police illegal content.

“In Europe, the bird will fly according to our European rules,” European industry chief Thierry Breton tweeted on Friday morning.

European Parliament lawmaker and civil rights advocate Patrick Breyer suggested people look for alternatives where privacy is a priority.

“Twitter already knows our personalities dangerously well due to its ubiquitous monitoring of our every click. Now that knowledge will fall into Musk’s hands.”

Musk said he sees Twitter as a base for creating a “super app” that offers everything from money transfers to shopping and carpooling.

But Twitter is struggling to engage its most active users who are vital to the business. These “big tweeters” represent less than 10% of global monthly users, but generate 90% of all tweets and half of global revenue.

Musk will face a challenge to generate revenue “given that the controversial views he seems to want to give more freedom to are often distasteful to advertisers,” said Susannah Streeter, an analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

As news of the deal spread, some Twitter users were quick to signal their willingness to walk away.

“I’ll be happy to be gone in a heartbeat if Musk, well, acts like we all expect him to,” said one account user @mustlovedogsxo.

Reporting by Sheila Dang in Dallas; additional reporting by David Shepardson and Katie Paul; Editing by Kenneth Li, Nick Zieminski, Deepa Babington and Jacqueline Wong

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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