Since buying Twitter, Elon Musk has made radical changes that have sparked fears for the future of the platform, from firing half the staff to restoring ex-president Donald Trump’s account and suspending those of several journalists.
AFP looks back at a rollercoaster two months at the Silicon Valley giant.
Musk, the world’s second-richest richest man and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, bought Twitter in late October for $44 billion after months of on-off negotiations.
“Let the good times roll,” he tweets after the deal is sealed on October 28. He becomes the sole director of the company after dissolving its corporate board.
‘Content moderation council’
In one of his first moves, the self-declared free speech absolutist announces he will form a “content moderation council”, in a nod to concerns that Twitter could become a free-for-all platform for disinformation and hate speech.
On November 1, Musk announced the site will charge $8 per month to verify the accounts of celebrities and companies — a service that used to be free. But the November 6 launch of the Twitter Blue subscription plan goes awry. Musk is forced to suspend the move after an embarrassing rash of fake accounts alarmed advertisers.
Brands step back
Top global companies, including General Mills and Volkswagen, suspended their advertising on Twitter on November 3 as they monitored the new direction the company will take.
On November 4, half of Twitter’s 7,500-strong staff are made redundant, sending shockwaves through Silicon Valley.
Musk tweets that “unfortunately there is no choice when the company is losing over $4M/day”.
The chaos drew a rare warning on November 10 from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the US authority that oversees consumer safety.
“We are tracking recent developments at Twitter with deep concern,” says an FTC spokesperson.
Ultimatum to staff
Musk delivered an ultimatum to Twitter staff on November 16, asking them to choose between being “extremely hardcore” and working long hours, or losing their jobs. He gives them a day to decide.
Large numbers of staff quit.
Musk reinstates the account of banned former president Donald Trump after conducting a poll of users, a narrow majority of whom support the move.
A few days later, he announced an “amnesty” for all banned Twitter accounts.
‘War’ with Apple
On November 29, Musk tweeted that he is going “to war’ with Apple, claiming it has threatened to oust Twitter from its App Store. After meeting with Apple boss Tim Cook he later says the clash was a misunderstanding.
In late November, Twitter said it is no longer enforcing a policy of combatting Covid-19 disinformation. Musk had fiercely opposed Covid restrictions. Days later, he is rapped by the White House for calling for President Joe Biden’s chief Covid adviser Anthony Fauci to be prosecuted.
Musk revises his promises of unfettered free speech after rapper Kanye West tweets a picture that appears to show a swastika interlaced with a Star of David. His account is suspended for “incitement to violence”.
Twitter Blue take two
In mid-December, Musk relaunches Twitter Blue. This time, Twitter conducts a review of the account before giving it the coveted blue check mark.
Journalists suspended, then reinstated
On December 15, Twitter suspended the accounts of more than a half-dozen journalists, including reporters from CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.
Musk accuses them of endangering his family through their reporting on Twitter’s shutdown of an account that tracked flights of his private jet.
Media outlets criticise the move and say they are re-evaluating their use of Twitter. The EU threatens to sanction the company.
Twitter users in a poll conducted by Musk back restoring the accounts.
On 17 December, some of the accounts were reactivated, but some remained suspended. A CNN reporter says Twitter conditioned the restoration of his ability to tweet on his removal of a post about tracking Musk’s location.
The UN’s human rights chief Volker Turk welcomes the reinstatement of the journalists but tweets that “serious concern” remains.