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Elon Musk Starts Putting His Imprint on Twitter

On Elon Musk’s first full day as the owner of Twitter, the social media company immediately began to feel his imprint.

Twitter’s top executives were fired and its board of directors dissolved. The company said its stock would stop trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Nov. 8. Mr. Musk announced that he planned to form a council to handle Twitter’s content questions and would not immediately reinstate users who had been barred. And he tapped confidants for help and established a “war room” at Twitter to review its products and policies.

On Twitter itself, some Republicans and conservative media personalities celebrated the new ownership. The number of followers to several right-wing Twitter accounts skyrocketed. And former President Donald J. Trump, who was barred from Twitter last year, used his own social platform to declare himself “very happy that Twitter is now in sane hands.”

The changes and reactions began a new era for a social media service called the world’s town square, which is now firmly in the control of the world’s richest man. Mr. Musk, 51, completed his blockbuster $44 billion acquisition of Twitter late on Thursday and did not hesitate to make his presence known. A mercurial and unpredictable innovator, he has promised to transform the service by loosening its content moderation rules, incorporating new technology and making its algorithm more transparent.

But Mr. Musk faces myriad challenges leading Twitter, which come atop his responsibilities at Tesla, as well as at the rocket maker SpaceX and several start-ups. Regulators in Europe immediately said they would scrutinize how he changes the service, while advertisers and misinformation researchers denounced the potential for a surge in toxic content and falsehoods on the platform.

Mr. Musk also now confronts the challenge of actually running Twitter, a money-losing company with 7,500 employees and 240 million users, some of whom are highly prominent and vocal. He did not immediately appoint executives to head the company on Friday, but did try appealing to advertisers, who provide the bulk of Twitter’s revenue. Mr. Musk, who took on about $13 billion in debt to finance the deal for Twitter, must also pay lenders about $1 billion in interest payments annually.

On Friday, Mr. Musk indicated that he was up for the challenge. “Let the good times roll,” he tweeted. He, along with Twitter, did not respond to requests for comment.

With Twitter’s changes over the past 24 hours, Mr. Musk is “sending strong signals to employees the world is changing,” said Tammy Madsen, a professor of management at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University. But, she cautioned, “we don’t know what direction it’s going to go.”

Mr. Musk has previously told investors that he has big plans for Twitter. That includes building Twitter into a “super app” like those that are popular in Asia, with social media, payments and messaging all part of one service. Mr. Musk has said he will call this “everything app” X.

Mr. Musk has also said he will add subscription services to Twitter, bringing in revenue directly from users instead of relying solely on advertisers. Such services could include giving people the option of using Twitter without seeing ads if they paid a fee.

On Wednesday, Mr. Musk arrived at Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco and met with Twitter employees throughout the rest of the week, five people with knowledge of the meetings said. Late on Thursday, top Twitter executives, including Parag Agrawal, the chief executive, as well as the chief financial officer, the top legal and policy executive and the general counsel, were fired.

Those executives thought they had until Friday before the deal would close, two people said. But Mr. Musk’s money for the deal came in earlier than expected, so he went forward with closing the deal on Thursday and firing the executives, they said.

Mr. Musk has set up a “war room” at the company to dig into his new purchase, two people said. Tesla employees and other trusted lieutenants of Mr. Musk also met with Twitter employees, four people said. One was Alex Spiro, Mr. Musk’s personal attorney, who discussed content moderation and legal issues with Twitter employees, three people said.

“He’s going to pick and choose the best he has in his network to come in and tackle some of these issues,” said Patrick Hillmann, the chief strategy officer of the cryptocurrency exchange Binance, which invested in Mr. Musk’s takeover of Twitter.

Other investors who provided money for Mr. Musk’s Twitter deal — including the venture capitalist David Sacks — also held meetings at the company on Friday, two people said. Kayvon Beykpour, Twitter’s former head of product who was fired by Mr. Agrawal in May, was spotted in the building, three people said.

Amid layoff fears, some Twitter employees were instructed to print out copies of the code they had written recently as possible proof of work, said two people with knowledge of the situation. Three employees said they were not getting any communication from the company and were reliant on news reports. Twitter also implemented a “code freeze” to prevent changes to the app, two people said.

Mr. Musk appeared to take a step back from his plans for Twitter to be a haven for undiluted and unrestrained commentary. For months, misinformation researchers have cautioned against removing guardrails from the service. Some advertisers also said they were leery of a Twitter that allowed everything in terms of speech. General Motors, for one, said it was temporarily suspending advertising on Twitter as it tries “to understand the direction of the platform under their new ownership.”

“If Twitter becomes the go-to platform for the knucklehead brigade, advertisers will run, not walk,” Bob Hoffman, the advertising industry veteran behind the Ad Contrarian newsletter, said in an email.

Mr. Musk, who told advertisers this week that he aimed to make Twitter “the most respected advertising platform in the world,” added to that sentiment on Friday. He made it clear that he would not immediately upend Twitter’s content moderation policies and would form a council to deliberate speech questions. Until then, he said, he would not reinstate the accounts of users who had broken the platform’s rules.

“Twitter will be forming a content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints,” he said in a tweet. “No major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before that council convenes.”

Evan Greer, the director of the digital advocacy group Fight for the Future, said that a council was a “good idea” but that Mr. Musk would ultimately have control over content decisions.

“He can form the council, and he can dissolve it,” Ms. Greer said of Mr. Musk. “That’s the problem with having a single individual own a company that has such a profound impact on our politics, culture and society.”

Conservative Twitter users — including lawmakers, Fox News hosts and others who have accused the mainstream tech platforms of censoring their views — were gleeful over Mr. Musk’s ownership of Twitter.

“Elon Musk has indicated he will oppose Big Tech censorship and support free speech,” Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said in a tweet. “That’s something all freedom-loving people can get behind.”

New activity on Twitter also ramped up. In the 24 hours before Mr. Musk closed his deal for the company, thousands of new accounts were created on the service, joining a broader surge of new followers for some of the platform’s most influential far-right accounts, according to research from Memetica, a digital investigations company.

At the same time, researchers found that Twitter accounts for progressive politicians and celebrities lost followers on Friday. Former President Barack Obama, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, and Rachel Maddow, the MSNBC host, were among the Twitter accounts that had lost the most followers since Thursday, according to data from Social Blade, a social media analytics firm.

Several left-wing influencers pleaded with their Twitter followers to stay on the service and not delete their accounts.

“If decent moderates and people on the Left keep abandoning platforms, we allow the extremist Right to own the narrative and we give the truth no voice,” John Pavlovitz, a writer and pastor, wrote to his 410,000 followers.

Sheera Frenkel, Stuart Thompson, Tiffany Hsu, Mike Isaac and David McCabe contributed reporting.



Sumber: www.nytimes.com

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