At last, Elon Musk has acquired Twitter, beating a deadline imposed by a Delaware judge by just a few hours. The “Chief Twit” joins his contemporary Jeff Bezos in the pantheon of 21st century media barons.
Now the deal is done, there’s considerable pressure to right the ship.
Twitter has been unprofitable for years. Whistleblower allegations of serious cybersecurity shortcomings (from its own former security chief, no less) have attracted considerable scrutiny.
Investors’ attitudes to tech companies are also souring. In the same week as the acquisition, Google shares lost over ten percent of their value, and Meta, formerly Facebook, ended the week trading at its lowest valuation since 2016 . Musk’s partners in the acquisition have been left nursing billions of dollars in paper losses.
All of which has led to rabid speculation about Musk’s long-term strategy for the business.
Despite early indications to the contrary , those hoping the “free speech absolutist” would declare Twitter a moderation-free zone, perhaps lifting the ban on Donald Trump, seem in for a disappointment – at least for now.
Instead, Musk’s first move as CEO has been to keep advertisers on side, announcing a content moderation council , in charge of account bans and content norms. “Twitter aspires to be the most respected advertising platform in the world,” he wrote as the deal closed.
Looking further out, clues abound. Musk has spoken of his ambition to build a “super app”, spanning social media, commerce, and payments – emulating China’s WeChat. He has stated a preference for subscription services instead of advertising. Comedy, not politics, may become the new Twitter’s stock in trade. A Twitter R&D project focused on decentralised social networks might become its tech backbone. Then again, none of this could happen.
There is, however, one certainty. For the time being, Twitter is back in private hands, meaning the scrutiny it endured as a publicly-traded company is at an end. That pressure being lifted gives Twitter’s new management an opportunity to fundamentally rethink its business model.
And Elon Musk is nothing if not a fundamental rethinker of things. Companies he has built from scratch over the past two decades have become the world’s most valuable car marque, and a near-monopoly on orbital space flight. Revamping a social media platform which already has millions of users seems like a walk in the park in comparison.
Perhaps the markets have called time on social media too early. Things could be about to get interesting again.