Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, now owns 9% of Twitter and sits on its corporate board of directors, sparking concerns about how the billionaire business entrepreneur might transform the social media network. He is now Twitter’s largest shareholder, and he has the ear of top executives.
What history does Musk have with Twitter?
He certainly does. Musk’s 80.5 million Twitter followers rank him among the most popular individuals on the platform, rivalling music singers such as Ariana Grande and Lady Gaga. However, his constant tweeting can get him into problems when he uses it to promote his commercial enterprises, mobilise Tesla supporters, challenge pandemic measures, and start conflicts with those with whom he disagrees.
In one notable case, Musk apologised to a British cave explorer who claimed Musk had branded him a paedophile in an angry — and later deleted — tweet by referring to him as “pedo man.” Musk filed a slander suit, but a Los Angeles jury later cleared him.
He’s also been embroiled in a long-running legal battle with the Securities and Exchange Commission over his Twitter behaviour. Musk and Tesla agreed in 2018 to pay $40 million in civil fines and have Musk’s tweets reviewed by a company counsel after he tweeted about having enough money to take Tesla private at $420 per share — which didn’t happen but led Tesla’s stock price to skyrocket. Musk’s lawyer has claimed that the SEC is violating his free speech rights.
What plans does Musk have at Twitter?
Musk has described himself as a “free speech absolutist” and has stated unequivocally that he does not believe Twitter is upholding free speech principles — an opinion shared by Donald Trump supporters and several right-wing political figures whose accounts have been suspended for violating Twitter content rules.
But it’s unclear what motivates Musk’s Twitter activity. His Twitter preoccupations include fighting for the public to be allowed to see Twitter’s algorithm, expanding the availability of “verified” Twitter accounts, and criticising a profile photo campaign employing non-fungible tokens, or NFTs.
Musk has also referred to “crypto spam bots,” who search tweets for cryptocurrency-related keywords before posing as customer service to empty user crypto wallets, as the “most annoying problem on Twitter.”
“We don’t know what his goals are,” said Jennifer Grygiel, a communications professor at Syracuse University and a social media expert. “Maybe Elon Musk secretly wants to blow (Twitter) up … maybe he wants to destroy it.”
What is Musk capable of as a board member?
Musk’s position as both a board member and Twitter’s top shareholder gives him a disproportionate influence over the company’s future. This week, the CEO and several board members publicly applauded him, indicating that Twitter’s leadership is likely to take his proposals seriously.
But he’s still only one of 12 members on a board that, according to Twitter, has “an important advisory and feedback role” but no authority over day-to-day operations and decisions. That means Musk won’t be able to install an “edit button” or reactivate Donald Trump’s suspended account.
“Our policy decisions are not determined by the board or shareholders, and we have no plans to reverse any policy decisions,” Adrian Zamora, a Twitter representative, stated.
What do shareholders think of the move?
Several Wall Street analysts expressed optimism about Musk’s new role at Twitter. “This is a guy that does push for change, that does, I think, refuse to have failure on his resume. A perfect guy you need on the board of directors for them,” Angelo Zino, a CFRA Research analyst, stated.
That is correct, according to Zino, even if “what exactly his ideas are, who the heck knows.”
Other investors are sceptical. Meredith Benton, founder of investment consulting firm Whistle Stop Capital, has been advocating for tougher workplace harassment and discrimination rules at both Twitter and Tesla. She describes Musk’s new role as a worrying development for Twitter investors, especially in light of California authorities’ allegations that Tesla discriminated against Black employees at its San Francisco Bay Area factory.
“Twitter’s greatest current challenge is to navigate successfully through the societal implications of its platform’s use,” Benton said. “Elon Musk with his air of reckless bravado presents a risk of undermining thoughtful and strategic management of these topics.”
Where does Twitter stand as a company?
Since co-founder Jack Dorsey’s departure in November, Twitter has had a new CEO, Parag Agrawal, whose first moves have included reorganising departments. Wall Street analysts had approved of Agrawal’s selection as the new CEO, but there have been no big modifications to the platform as of yet. The company has historically trailed its social media competitors and has considerably fewer users.
The sheer association of Musk’s high-profile name with Twitter might encourage consumers to spend more time on the platform and help it make more money, according to Zino, who refers to Musk as “the most important individual” at Twitter.
What other roles does Musk hold?
You wouldn’t know it from his numerous writings, but he is the CEO and “Technoking” of the electric car firm Tesla, as well as the CEO of the rocket company SpaceX. He is also the founder of The Boring Company, which builds underground tunnels, and Neuralink, which plans to implant computer chips in people’s brains.