Elon Musk appears to be on the cusp of finalizing his $44 billion deal to take over Twitter ahead of a court-imposed Friday deadline, but the future of the platform remains uncertain as the billionaire space and auto executive prepares to jump into the social media scene.
Ahead of the expected closing, Musk entered Twitter’s headquarters and issued a statement to advertisers about his plans for the company. Amid conflicting reports about how Musk intends to handle staffing and ongoing concerns from critics about the freewheeling Tesla and SpaceX CEO’s plans for a “free speech” platform, however, it’s not clear how Twitter will change in months to come.
Here are five questions looming ahead of Musk’s pending takeover.
What will content moderation look like?
Throughout the six-month saga of Musk’s agreement to buy Twitter, he’s indicated he would shift the platform to be in line with his views of a free speech environment by peeling back measures Twitter currently has in place that bar certain content.
Those comments have sparked concern from civil society groups that have already been sounding the alarm that Twitter isn’t taking a tough enough stance against hate speech and misinformation and argue that under Musk’s control that type of content could spread even more widely.
Such a rise in disinformation could in turn drive away advertisers, which would cut into Twitter’s main source of revenue.
Musk seemingly tried to quell those concerns in a message to advertisers he posted Thursday, telling them Twitter “obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences.”
“Fundamentally, Twitter aspires to be the most respected advertising platform in the world that strengthens your brand and grows your enterprise. To everyone who has partnered with us, I thank you. Let us build something extraordinary together,” he wrote.
The message, though, is still light on details that indicate to what extent Musk plans to change Twitter’s policies on moderating content.
Will Trump return?
One of the most direct changes Musk has indicated he would make is letting former President Trump back on Twitter.
In an interview in May at an event hosted by the Financial Times, Musk said he would reverse the platform’s permanent ban on Trump. He called Twitter’s decision to ban Trump over posts it deemed to incite violence around the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol a “morally bad decision” and “foolish in the extreme.”
If the former president’s account is reinstated under Musk’s leadership, he would again have access to his once favored platform and a means of communicating more directly to a wide audience.
Since he was booted from Twitter, Trump has struggled to gain a similar platform for reaching his base the way he once did with Twitter.
He launched his own social media site, Truth Social, earlier this year. But its user numbers pale in comparison to Twitter’s. Truth Social had roughly 9 million visits in August, versus Twitter’s 6.8 billion the same month, according to data from SimilarWeb.
There’s also a chance whatever action Twitter takes under Musk could impact the broader social media landscape in terms of Trump’s suspensions. Meta, the parent company of Facebook, is set to reevaluate its decision on whether to let Trump back on at the beginning of 2023. If Twitter gives the former president renewed access to the platform, it could give Meta impetus to take the same action.
What will happen to Twitter’s staff?
Musk reportedly plans to make cuts to Twitter’s 7,500 person workforce, though it is not clear to what extent.
Musk told prospective investors that he plans to slim Twitter’s workforce by nearly 75 percent, to a staff of around 2,000, The Washington Post reported last week.
Musk pushed back on the reporting, telling employees Wednesday that he does not plan to reduce the workforce to that extent, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News. But he is still expected to cut some staff as part of the takeover, Bloomberg reported.
Those cuts could also impact the company’s ability to moderate content and how the site runs effectively for users.
Twitter is not the only social media company that could be making workforce cuts as platforms reckon with a changing online advertising market and overall economic downturn.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg on an earnings call Wednesday said some teams will be held flat and others will see cuts. The company predicted its headcount at the end of 2023 will roughly be in line with the third quarter of this year, however.
How will Musk’s takeover impact the right-wing social media app market?
Alternative social media platforms offering lax content moderation measures have popped up in recent years, catering to right-wing audiences as a number of conservative figures have been booted from mainstream platforms for violating platform policies.
Several of those sites offer similar message-sharing capabilities as Twitter, including Truth Social, launched by Trump, Gettr, founded by former Trump aide Jason Miller, and Parler, which Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, is seeking to buy. Ye was banned from Twitter earlier this month over antisemitic content.
The platforms each boast their limited moderation efforts and largely allow the conspiracy theories, misinformation and hate speech that mainstream sites like Twitter have sought to ban.
But if Twitter allows for more of that content under Musk, as he’s indicated, the change could cut into the number of users on those platforms — or even kill some of the alternative sites, said President and CEO of the left-leaning watchdog group Media Matters Angelo Carusone.
“Most of the users that are on Truth Social or Parler or Gettr, they really want to be on Twitter. It’s just they can’t do and say the things they want to do on Twitter. So they have to use these alternatives, but that’s where they really want to be because they want to ‘own the libs’ and they want to have a larger user base,” Carusone told The Hill in an interview earlier this month.
What other changes are on the horizon?
Musk’s chief call for change at Twitter has centered on carrying out his vision for a free speech environment, but he’s indicated other updates that the platform may include under his leadership, too.
When announcing the initial acquisition agreement in April, Musk said he wanted to make Twitter’s algorithm open source in an effort to “increase trust.”
He also said that he wants to “defeat the spam bots” and authenticate all human users.
Musk’s takeover of Twitter may also serve as a launching point for his plans to create “X,” which he’s called the “everything app.” Earlier this month he said that buying Twitter was an “accelerant” toward creating X.