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What Elon Musk is up to with Twitter

Loading player News of Elon Musk's acquisition of 9.2 percent of Twitter's shares and his subsequent entry into the company's board of directors drew great attention, not only from financial analysts, but from those in charge as well. of social media and how the platform is used by hundreds of millions of people around the world. Musk, who has a large following on Twitter, has repeatedly criticized the social network in the past, accusing it of not sufficiently protecting freedom of expression, even in extreme cases such as the assault on the United States Congress in 2021.

CEO of electric car company Tesla and space company SpaceX, Elon Musk is the richest person in the world with an estimated assets of around $ 280 billion. Throughout his career he has shown that he has great insights, such as starting earlier than many others to develop and produce reusable electric vehicles and space rockets, but he has also often made misleading statements on the most disparate topics on Twitter, his favorite social network. .

A few weeks ago, Musk got in touch with Parag Agrawal, CEO of Twitter since late November 2021, and with his predecessor and co-founder of the company, Jack Dorsey, announcing that he has begun the acquisition of some shares of the company and of be available to discuss solutions to improve it. According to sources in the New York Times, after the first contacts, Agrawal had proposed to Musk to have a more active role in addition to that of shareholder, offering him the possibility of joining the board of directors.

The discussions between Agrawal, Musk and Dorsey had continued for a few days, around the same time that Musk was starting to publish several tweets about the rules and functioning of Twitter, inviting his more than 80 million followers to answer some polls, but without. reveal that he has in the meantime begun the acquisition of a stake that would have made him the first shareholder of the company.

On March 24, for example, Musk had published a tweet containing a poll asking if the algorithm that governs the functioning of Twitter should become free and accessible to all.

Twitter algorithm should be open source

– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 24, 2022

More than 1.1 million people had voted: the “yes” had prevailed with 82.7 per cent. Dorsey, who is still on Twitter's board of directors, responded by saying that he basically agreed: “The choice of which algorithm to use (or not to use) should be open to everyone”.

The next day, Musk was back on Twitter again, this time asking if he was “adhering” to a specific assumption: “Freedom of expression is essential for democracy to work.” 2 million had voted, saying that the social network did not adhere to that principle.

Free speech is essential to a functioning democracy.

Do you believe Twitter rigorously adheres to this principle?

– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 25, 2022

On March 26, Musk commented on the previous day's poll with a further question, this time with no attached poll: “Given that Twitter effectively functions as a public agora, failing to adhere to the principles of freedom of expression undermines the foundations of democracy. What should be done? Do you need a new platform? “.

In the following weeks Musk hadn't published anything else on the subject and on April 4 it was revealed that he had acquired 9.2 percent of the shares of Twitter, becoming the main shareholder, in a transaction worth 2.89 billion dollars ( approximately 2.5 billion euros). It was later discovered that Musk had filed an initial document with the SEC, the financial control authority in the United States, at the end of January 2022 and that he had subsequently filed other documents, while collecting nearly a tenth of the shares from various shareholders. company shares.

Musk had in his own way confirmed the news that had started circulating about the purchase of the shares in a rather laconic tweet.

Oh hi lol

– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 4, 2022

The next day, also on Twitter, he published a new poll with a question about adding an option to edit your tweets after they are published: “Do you want an edit button?”. Over 4.4 million users had voted and 73.6 percent expressed their favorable opinion.

Do you want an edit button?

– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 5, 2022

The edit button has always been one of the most requested functions by Twitter users, to the point of having become almost a catchphrase and the source of numerous memes and idioms, such as the phrase “Tweet, but editable”, which is used by many subscribers when they post something with an error and don't want to delete their tweet, because maybe it has already received numerous comments and interactions.

To date, in fact, the only possibility to correct a typo or an error is to add a comment tweet to the wrong one, or to remove it and publish a new one (a practicable practice if you immediately notice the error, but less feasible in the event that the tweet has been around for some time and has been resumed by others).

When he was still CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey had said on several occasions that he was skeptical about using an edit key: he feared that some users could use it to change the contents of their tweets, for example to spread false information or change the meaning. conversations. The new CEO, Parag Agrawal, had instead shown that he was interested in the option, considering that similar functions have been available for some time on Facebook, Instagram and other social networks, where they have not been directly exploited to circulate false information (which in any case is shared abundantly on platforms).

The edit button issue effectively shows how things could work inside Twitter, now that Musk is on the board.

Agrawal, for example, took up and quoted the tweet with Musk's poll, inviting users of the social network to “vote with caution” given the “important consequences” that the vote would have. A few hours later, one of the official Twitter accounts announced that the social network had been working on experimenting with an edit button since last year, adding that: “No, we didn't get the idea from a poll.”

now that everyone is asking…

yes, we've been working on an edit feature since last year!

no, we didn't get the idea from a poll 😉

we're kicking off testing within @TwitterBlue Labs in the coming months to learn what works, what doesn't, and what's possible.

– Twitter Comms (@TwitterComms) April 5, 2022

Previously, the main Twitter account had already announced that it was working on a change key, but the tweet announcing it had been published on April 1, and consequently appeared to be one of the many April fools circulated online during. the day.

we are working on an edit button

– Twitter (@Twitter) April 1, 2022

Jay Sullivan, executive of the company, explained that the new feature will be tested with a limited number of users, before evaluating its diffusion among all subscribers. Sullivan also recalled that “without tricks such as time limits, controls and a transparent system on what has been changed, a change button could be used to distort the meaning of conversations. Protecting the integrity of those public conversations is our top priority when dealing with this function. “

Beyond the edit button, it is not yet clear what Musk's actual involvement in decisions affecting Twitter will be. Through a spokesperson, the company recalled that the board of directors has an important role in providing advice and evaluations on the social network, but that “ordinary activities and decisions are determined by Twitter executives and employees”.

As the main shareholder, Musk will still have the opportunity to influence corporate decisions. The theme that seems to be most dear to him is linked to the possibility of making Twitter algorithms accessible to all, so that each user with a certain experience can decide how to organize the contents that are shown on the platform. Currently the tweets are shown through a selection of the most relevant based on the tastes of each individual subscriber and their topicality, or chronologically. However, Twitter has the ability to hide content that it deems not useful for online conversations or that violates the rules of use of the social network.

Musk, who on various occasions has defined himself as an “absolutist of free expression”, thinks that choices of this type should be left to individual users and that there should be no interference from those who manage the platforms. It is a way of seeing things very shared by the exponents of the US right, who had for example harshly criticized Twitter after the decision to ban Donald Trump forever, following his use of social networks that had helped to incite the attackers of the Congress.

The decision to close Trump's account, and more generally to remove content and profiles, had also been experienced with difficulty by Dorsey, who at least partially shares Musk's positions. In 2019, Dorsey initiated Bluesky, a project to develop a new shared infrastructure for social networks that would allow users to retain ownership of their data, organize viewing and discovery of new content as they saw fit, and use various algorithms transparently.

A system like Bluesky would also have allowed platforms to have far fewer responsibilities, making their regulation less necessary as required by several governments, including that of the United States and those of the European Union. However, the project did not lead to many results and Twitter continues to be a social network similar to the others, without decentralized systems and under the control of individual users.

The decisions on whether or not to develop such solutions are not directly up to the board of directors, but Agrawal seems to be willing to listen to Musk and his proposals nonetheless. Twitter executives had two options before them after Musk's acquisition of the shares: to involve him in a friendly way to keep him under control or to isolate him, risking however that he would exercise his power deriving from the shares held to impose his own decisions. . The first option appeared to be the most viable, although predicting what Musk does is often difficult if not impossible.

However, Twitter has tried to further limit the presence of a new shareholder who could have turned out to be much more cumbersome. The deal for which he can sit on the board of directors stipulates that Musk cannot collect more than 14.9 percent of Twitter's shares, which at least in the short term will prevent him from initiating a hostile takeover to take over the. full control of the company. The position as director will last until 2024, but if Musk is not satisfied he could still resign and try to collect other shares without having particular constraints, until he gains control of Twitter.

At the moment, it seems unlikely that Musk will want to go this route, although in recent weeks it was speculated that he wanted to build his own social network while starting his online polls. However, the huge interest of the last few days has favored Twitter, whose shares have risen by about 30 percent from the end of last week to the trading session on Tuesday 5 April.

Despite having existed for 16 years, Twitter has just over 200 million subscribers who use its social network daily, unlike Facebook and other platforms with a much higher number of users. daily entities. Twitter has struggled to renew itself, but at the same time it has become an important resource for current news and information, thanks to the presence of state leaders, public figures and famous people in various sectors. Musk could offer new visibility to the service, at a stage in which it has further lost its appeal after the growing success of other social networks such as TikTok.