Elon Musk has set out his vision for Twitter after buying a 9.2% stake in the company, in a series of posts on the social network described by one commentator as having “chaos energy”.
Since being appointed to the Twitter board on Tuesday, Musk has posted a stream of open questions about the present and future of the site, proposing new features, highlighting areas of concern, and making jokes. Typically for the Tesla billionaire, it was not always clear which was which.
Musk’s most long-running concern with the direction of Twitter has been its moderation policies. In late March – after he had acquired a large stake in the company, but before he had disclosed that publicly – he tweeted a poll asking users whether Twitter adhered to the principle of free speech. “Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy,” he added. “What should be done?”
In 2021, Musk had declared: “A lot of people are going to be super unhappy with West Coast high tech as the de facto arbiter of free speech,” and just last month declared himself “a free speech absolutist”. Musk has personally started some moderation controversies on Twitter, as in March 2020, when he tweeted that children were “essentially immune” to Covid, leading to calls on the social network to remove his tweet for breaking then-new rules about Covid misinformation. Twitter ultimately declined, arguing that it did not break the rules “when reviewing the overall context and conclusion of the tweet”.
Since his appointment to the board, though, Musk has also suggested more prosaic changes to the social network. In one tweet, he proposed adding an edit button to let users rewrite their posts after they had been sent, prompting a resurgence of debate about whether such a feature would help or harm the global conversation.
Musk expressed concern that many of the most-followed accounts on Twitter “tweet rarely and post very little content”, asking: “Is Twitter dying? For example, Taylor Swift hasn’t posted anything in 3 months. And Justin Bieber only posted once this entire year.”
In another set of tweets, he criticized the service offered by Twitter Blue, the company’s subscription package, arguing that it should come with an “authentication checkmark” and no adverts – since “the power of corporations to dictate policy is greatly enhanced if Twitter depends on advertising money to survive”.
Other proposals seem less likely to come to pass. Musk asked his followers whether Twitter should convert its headquarters in San Francisco to a homeless shelter “since no one shows up anyway” (91% of his followers have voted yes); he also asked them whether he should “delete the w in twitter?” That question, posted around midnight local time, came with two options: “yes” and “of course”. More than a million people have engaged with the joke, with “yes” leading the vote.
Drawing the line between a Twitter joke and a serious proposal can be hard with the former PayPal chief executive, who has previously made and sold flamethrowers, liquidated billions of dollars of Tesla stock, and launched a car into space, all after suggesting that he would do so on social media.